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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 777

post #23281 of 73586
Wow Just saw the highlights. The Red Sox bullpen blew a 6-1 lead in the 8th. Very lucky
post #23282 of 73586
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Love the Giants and Orioles orange unis.

And I don't like the team, but these might be my favorite unis in the league:

8)8)glasses.gif Nice.
post #23283 of 73586
Originally Posted by bbllplaya23 View Post

mean.gif at this Posey rule.'s a ******* joke.
post #23284 of 73586
Originally Posted by JJs07 View Post

Originally Posted by bbllplaya23 View Post

mean.gif at this Posey rule.'s a ******* joke.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #23285 of 73586
Kris Bryant 2 home runs yesterday
Kris Bryant 1 home run today


He's up to 26 overall on the year between AA and AAA and he won his home run derby.

Either he gets a 50 gamer soon, or he appears to be a rather good ball player.

Cubs luck, 50 games soon...... laugh.gif
post #23286 of 73586
Originally Posted by a55a5in11 View Post

Mariners are a bat or two away from being real competitors
Imagine if Seattle had Nellie or Matty Kemp instead of LoMo. Or if Miller would start hitting consistently.
Originally Posted by CP1708 View Post

Kris Bryant 2 home runs yesterday
Kris Bryant 1 home run today


He's up to 26 overall on the year between AA and AAA and he won his home run derby.

Either he gets a 50 gamer soon, or he appears to be a rather good ball player.

Cubs luck, 50 games soon...... laugh.gif
I support the hype train. Two-man bandwagon with CP and I.
post #23287 of 73586
Posey rule is great, too many fake tough guys in baseball.
Instagram. | just my art and photography. #NT will follow back. Also Flickr.
Instagram. | just my art and photography. #NT will follow back. Also Flickr.
post #23288 of 73586
Originally Posted by Osh Kosh Bosh View Post

Posey rule is great, too many fake tough guys in baseball.
What's fake tough have anything to do with catchers not being able to stop runs from scoring? The rule sucks. Rangers got robbed of an out last night.
post #23289 of 73586
Rule blows, catchers should be able to protect plate.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #23290 of 73586
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

What's fake tough have anything to do with catchers not being able to stop runs from scoring? The rule sucks. Rangers got robbed of an out last night.

you can, just tag him, thats the way it works at every other base.

this whole im going to stand here without the ball and force you to run me over is relatively modern invention. It dumb, you pay catcher 100 million dollar contract and you are going to let them get hurt on something that has nothing to do with baseball? Stupid.
Instagram. | just my art and photography. #NT will follow back. Also Flickr.
Instagram. | just my art and photography. #NT will follow back. Also Flickr.
post #23291 of 73586

All Star Game HR Derby Hats

New Era just trying to make money mean.gif
post #23292 of 73586
Hats for everything laugh.gif
post #23293 of 73586
They'll do anything to make a dollar.
post #23294 of 73586
Taking the family to Citi Field for the Rangers series. Disappointed to miss Darvish's turn in the rotation but Shake Shack and the beer stand will do.
post #23295 of 73586

Giants tribute to Tony Gwynn tonight when they play the Padres
post #23296 of 73586
Tim Kurkjian just ran in the sausage race in Milwaukee. Finished dead last.
post #23297 of 73586
Lmaoo late start but he was getting smoked regardless
post #23298 of 73586
Brett Lawrie facing a 3-6 week DL stint. Curse of Sydney.
post #23299 of 73586
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by ChampCruThik View Post

Taking the family to Citi Field for the Rangers series. Disappointed to miss Darvish's turn in the rotation but Shake Shack and the beer stand will do.

You going on the 4th or the weekend?
post #23300 of 73586
Originally Posted by JumpmanFromDaBay View Post

All Star Game HR Derby Hats

New Era just trying to make money mean.gif

Will cop that red NYY when the price drops to $18 on MLB Shop smokin.gif
post #23301 of 73586
Thread Starter 
Athletics must make a move.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Flags fly forever.

We hear this axiom repeated often. You could call it the baseball version of Al Davis' famous battle cry, "Just win, baby!" Championships endure, we're told. Teams on the brink of contention should always push their chips to the center of the table, they say.

But raising a flag is difficult. And so some teams are content to be merely good enough to contend -- especially when that roster is cost-efficient.

For a long time, the Oakland Athletics have been such a club. But this year is different. This year, it seems, Oakland should go for the jugular.

Inactive A's

Here is a list of the players the A's have acquired in the week leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline the past five years: Clayton Mortensen, Shane Peterson, Brett Wallace, Brandon Allen, Jordan Norberto, George Kottaras and Alberto Callaspo. You can be excused if any of those names feel unfamiliar.

The time has come for Oakland to take a different approach. As of June 23, the A's sit comfortably atop the American League West and have the best record in baseball. Armed with their best roster in years, the A's have incentive to pursue a big move and make a run to the pennant as likely as possible.

Under the two-team wild-card system, teams can be hesitant to make a big trade. If they don't win their division, they may have mortgaged their future for just one game.

But the A's can't feel weighed down by such concern. Oakland is the only team with odds better than 90 percent to reach the playoffs (per FanGraphs' playoff odds) and one of two teams with 75 percent or better odds to win their division. They are one of two teams with at least a five-game lead in their division. While no lead is ever safe, Oakland can feel reasonably confident that it will be playing in October. If the A's strengthened a few of the roster's weaker areas, they could feel even more confident.

A's offense
Position wRC+ Rank
C 143 2
1B 89 23
2B 67 25
SS 90 14
3B 138 1
RF 85 22
CF 117 8
LF 157 1
DH 108 10 (AL only)
Areas to improve

I say weaker areas because the team doesn't have a whole lot of actual weaknesses. The biggest weakness, as you can see in the chart to the right, is at second base. It's the only position where the A's are more than 15 percent below average according to wRC+. Neither Eric Sogard nor Nick Punto should be starting on a team of this caliber. Sogard actually shouldn't be starting for any team, as his defense is not good enough to make up for an atrocious 46 wRC+ -- the second-lowest mark in the game among the 258 players with at least 150 plate appearances this year.

Luckily, there should be a number of second basemen on the market. Ben Zobrist and Luis Valbuena are likely available. As we approach the trading deadline, Chase Utley and Daniel Murphy, among others, might also appear on the block.

The team could also go for the grand slam and try to acquire Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. A few weeks ago, the Rockies looked promising. On May 20, they were 26-20 and just two games back of the San Francisco Giants for the National League West lead. But they have been dreadful ever since and have likely exited the playoff hunt.

Billy Beane and Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd have been frequent trade partners over the years, the Carlos Gonzalez trade being just one example. If Beane were to dangle shortstop prospect Addison Russell and a bunch (read: at least five) of lower-level prospects, perhaps the Rockies could be talked into trading their star. It's an incredibly unlikely scenario -- as the A's have never had a contract the size of Tulo's deal -- but if anyone could pull it off, it's Beane, who has less than $13 million committed to the 2015 payroll. In such a scenario, Jed Lowrie would slide over to second and solve that issue.

While first base might seem like a problem area as well, the A's firmed up at first with the acquisition of Kyle Blanks, who is the perfect complement to Brandon Moss in a platoon. Moss has been pulled into right field this month with OF Josh Reddick on the disabled list, leaving first base in less capable hands. Reddick could return the lineup as early as Tuesday. Once he does, the A's should be solid at the corners.

Trade Reddick

But Reddick's return won't cure all ills. In fact, the injured right fielder represents the other problem spot for the offense.

No one can question Reddick's stellar defense, but with Craig Gentry in tow, Reddick needs to do more with the bat and hasn't thus far. However, he has contributed in the past at a great rate. Most important, he has two relatively cheap years left in arbitration. As such, he represents a great trade chip.

The Twins aren't out of the playoff chase by any means, but given that Josh Willingham is set for free agency after this season, perhaps they could be persuaded into a Reddick-Willingham swap. A Reddick-Byron Buxton-Oswaldo Arcia outfield could be pretty sexy next season for Minnesota, and with Willingham hitting 68 points better than Reddick in wRC+, such a deal could be win-win for the A's.

Finally, the A's probably need another starter. It's a lesser priority than improving the offense, and given that the team has fewer tradable assets than usual, it probably won't be in the market for David Price or Jeff Samardzija.

Fortunately, Oakland doesn't have to aim so high. Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz have all posted xFIPs of 3.61 or better and are all a solid bet to march on at the same pace. Tommy Milone and Dan Straily, however, have posted xFIPs of 4.59 and 4.42, respectively. Both marks are well below the 3.95 AL average. Milone's mark is actually fifth worst out of 95 qualified pitchers, so finding a superior option shouldn't be too difficult.

As it stands, the A's will be an imposing foe come October. But the team and GM that made Moneyball famous now have their best chance to cash in. Securing upgrades at one or more positions, particularly second base, could put Oakland in a position to stomp through the postseason and raise a World Series flag for the first time in 25 years.

Five GM candidates for San Diego.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The San Diego Padres have begun the process of replacing general manager Josh Byrnes, who was fired on Sunday, with insiders saying that in all likelihood the hiring will come outside of the organization.

This despite the fact the Padres have several in-house candidates led by assistant GMs A.J. Hinch, Chad MacDonald, and Fred Uhlman Jr., as well as senior VP of baseball operations Omar Minaya and VP of player development Randy Smith, both of whom are former GMs. However, the announcement that Hinch, Uhlman and Minaya would share the GM duties in the interim is a sign that they don’t have an in-house candidate they want to hand the reins to.

In fact, it is believed that the Padres' ownership group would prefer to hire a first-time GM with vision, ideally an up-and-coming exec from a successful organization. Here are five names that fit that mold.

1. Thad Levine, assistant GM, Texas Rangers

Levine is widely considered a GM-in-waiting within the industry, someone who has all the tools needed to be a great GM. He has strong administrative, evaluative, leadership, statistical and communication skills. He understands the importance of surrounding yourself with the best minds available, is detail oriented, organized and systematic.

He has been an AGM for the Rangers, and exhibits the kind of character and professionalism that reminds some of St. Louis GM John Mozeliak.

2. David Forst, assistant GM, Oakland Athletics

Forst is the happiest AGM in baseball, teaming up with GM Billy Beane to give Oakland what might be the smartest front office in the game. He has had chances to become a GM elsewhere in the past, but he and his family love the Bay area and he has such a great working relationship with Beane that getting promoted or becoming a GM with another organization has just never been a priority for him.

That said, he will become a GM at some point, either with the A's or elsewhere, and the small-market Padres will surely appreciate his success in Oakland on a modest budget. At some point some team will give Forst an offer he can't refuse, and perhaps it will be the Padres.

3. Jason McLeod, VP of player development & amateur scouting, Chicago Cubs

He is considered one of the best evaluators in the business, particularly as it applies to hitters, and that could be huge in San Diego, as the Padres have struggled to develop bats who can thrive in spacious Petco Park.

McLeod has even worked in San Diego before, having served under previous GM Jed Hoyer before following him to Chicago where they teamed back up with Theo Epstein after the trio helped build a World Series winner in Boston. McLeod worked his way up from area scout, so he has a deep understanding of all aspects of player development, and has been instrumental in the drafting or signing of Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, three of the best prospects in the game.

A return to the Padres could only happen if McLedo is offered the GM position, a job that he's more than ready for.

4. Al Avila, assistant general manager, Detroit Tigers

He has spent 22 season in professional baseball and is currently in his 12th with the Tigers after being named to his current position back on April 15, 2002. He has worked closely and been trained by GM Dave Dombrowski one of the most highly regarded execs in the game.

Avila worked with Dombrowski back in his days with the Marlins, and was instrumental in the signing of Miguel Cabrera as an amateur, and Avila helped swing a trade for Miggy while working in Detroit. He's a little older than the three candidates mentioned above, but his track record with a successful organization suggests he's ready for the opportunity.

5. Damon Oppenheimer, director of amateur scouting, New York Yankees

Oppenheimer is Southern California native whose ties to the Padres run deep: His mother was their director of minor league operations and he was even a peanut vendor at Jack Murphy Stadium as a teenager. Additionally, he served an area scout for the Padres early in his career before moving over to the Yankees in 1993.

He gradually worked his way up to become an integral member of GM Brian Cashman's staff. So integral, in fact, that the Arizona Diamondbacks requested permission to interview Oppenheimer for their GM opening after the 2010 season but were denied. I don't get the sense that Cashman would stand in Oppenheimer's way this time, though, when you consider his connection to the Padres.

Parity killing off the seller's market.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The volume of calls and text messages between general managers is growing as teams look to improve through trades, through adding help from outside of the organization.

But as has been noted many times since Major League Baseball expanded its playoff field from eight to 10, the extra wild-card team reduces the field of potential sellers, because more teams have hope and reason to wait to break up their teams.

There is another factor depressing the trade market as well, according to some executives who have taken the pulse of rival evaluators: parity.

The Oakland Athletics have been a great team this season, with the best record in the majors at 44-28 and a run differential of plus-132. The Giants own the second-best run differential -- 85 runs less, at plus-47. Twenty-six of the 30 teams have run differentials ranging between the Giants' plus-47 and the minus-40 of the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.

Oh, sure, you could go out and make an aggressive trade and pay what are perceived to be extremely high asking prices for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija or Jason Hammel, and inevitably, teams will do that. But given the relative mediocrity of the teams in 2014, some executives privately ask the question: Is the addition of a player really going to make that much of a difference, given how deeply flawed most teams are?

General managers will weigh the cost/benefit equation of adding someone such as Samardzija or David Price, and for now, some are saying that it might make more business sense to wait to see if their current teams can play better, or if internal adjustments would be more effective.

The Kansas City Royals are a great example of this.

Three weeks ago, there was speculation that manager Ned Yost and/or GM Dayton Moore might be in jeopardy of being fired. Now, the Royals have zoomed into first place with essentially the same cast of players because they're playing better and because the Tigers have regressed. The Dodgers have made up a ton of ground in the standings in just a week because the Giants started losing.
[+] EnlargeDaniel Murphy
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Daniel Murphy could be a player the Mets look to move.

The Yankees could use a starting pitcher, undoubtedly, and they may well land someone before the deadline. But because Toronto is much less than a super team, New York sits just 2.5 games out of first place -- and Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran really haven't performed as expected. The Red Sox have been shocking in their struggles, and yet they're just four games out in the wild-card race. They have improved the back end of their rotation with the performances of Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, and they are weeding through their internal options; it's hardly out of the realm of possibility that they could keep the current cast and get better results.

Think of MLB as a marathon. Oakland is way out in front of the pack right now, and behind them is a pack of 23 to 25 teams, at the 11th mile. And no one else in the pack appears ready to break away.

They can wait. The trade market can wait.

Parity could be a plus for the Yankees, writes Tyler Kepner. Brian Cashman is ready to deal, writes John Harper.

Among possible sellers:

1. The Mets should deal now, writes Joel Sherman. Daniel Murphy would have some value.

2. Samardzija is no closer to signing with the Cubs.

3. It’s time for the Rays to start selling, writes Gary Shelton.

4. The Rangers are buried deeper in the AL West after their latest loss.

Kershaw's no-hitter

The reaction of A.J. Ellis at the moment Clayton Kershaw finished his no-hitter says it all: He takes a moment to set down his helmet and mask before moving to congratulate Kershaw. Ellis and the Dodgers have been expecting this. It seemed inevitable that Kershaw would pitch a no-hitter, given his effort and his talent and his preparation, detailed in this piece from March.

From ESPN Stats & Information, how Kershaw threw a no-nitter:

1. Fourteen of Kershaw's 15 strikeouts came with his breaking pitches. That's two more than any other pitcher in any start since 2009.
2. Thirteen of Kershaw's strikeouts came in five pitches or fewer, one shy of the most by any pitcher since 2009.
3. Early in the count (0-0, 0-1, 1-0, 1-1), Kershaw threw his fastball a season-high 72 percent of the time. In all other counts, he threw it 28 percent of the time, his second-lowest percentage of the season.
4. Kershaw went to only one 2-0 count and only one three-ball count.
5. He threw 19 sliders out of the zone and the Rockies chased on 14 of them (74 percent). That's the second-highest chase percentage against his slider in any start in which he threw at least 20 total. Overall, he had 15 K's, nine ground outs, and three fly outs.

The Rockies had no answers. The Dodgers celebrated with Kershaw. Hanley Ramirez didn’t make a excuse about his error.


• You knew it was going to be another bad day for the Tigers when a first-inning ground ball skipped off the corner of second base and caromed sideways, allowing the Royals' first run to score.

Jeremy Guthrie was dominant, as Andy McCullough writes. How Guthrie won:

1. He got the Tigers to chase 32 percent of his pitches out of the strike zone, his second-highest rate this season.
2. He kept hitters off balance: The Tigers were 1-for-13 with five strikeouts in at-bats ending in a fastball, and 1-for-6 in at-bats ending in a changeup.
3. He put hitters away: Detroit went 0-for-14 in at-bats that reached two strikes.

Right now, the Tigers stink, writes Drew Sharp.

• On Wednesday’s podcast, Tim Kurkjian and Jason Beck discussed the Tigers' issues, and we spoke with Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who told a story about Tony Gwynn. On Tuesday’s podcast, Jayson Stark and I reminisced about Tony and who he was.

• Anibal Sanchez has become the stopper for the Tigers.

• I hope Major League Baseball issues a statement detailing exactly why this play involving Russell Martin was reversed, and what it is he needed to do differently. I have not seen a play generate more frustration on Twitter, as baseball fans tried to figure out what happened. The folks in uniform felt the same way.

"Russell tagged the plate and got out of the way," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The runner slid cleanly across the plate: He wasn't obstructed."

During the game, Hurdle called MLB executive vice president for baseball operations Joe Torre to discuss the ruling from New York. "We're still working our way through finding out what is and what isn't obstruction," Hurdle said.

• The Reds are on a roll: Eight wins in 11 games, and they got another multihit game from Billy Hamilton, who just keeps getting better and better.

• Kevin Gausman continues to look like someone who could be a difference-maker in the AL East race: he shut down the Rays, as Eduardo Encina writes.

Dings and dents

1. Michael Brantley could be back Saturday.

2. Matt Wieters says Tommy John surgery was inevitable. Yes.

3. A couple of Blue Jays got hurt.

4. Glen Perkins is hurting.

5. Adam Wainwright is ready to go.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. There are no shortcuts in rebuilding the Phillies.

2. The Red Sox cut Grady Sizemore, and if Sizemore doesn’t find a better opportunity elsewhere, they are open to discussing a spot for him in their minor league system, to continue his comeback. The cut of Sizemore was overdue, writes Steve Buckley.

3. Brandon Workman's suspension was upheld.

4. Anthony Gose was sent to the minors.

5. Kris Bryant was promoted.

Wednesday's games

1. The Nationals rallied.

2. A struggling Brian McCann had a big night.

3. The Red Sox won in dramatic fashion.

4. The Twins have five straight losses.

5. The Brewers couldn't finish it off.

6. Jake Arrieta was tremendous.

7. The problems continue for the Braves.

8. The Giants' lead continues to shrink.

9. The Mariners wasted another strong start by Felix Hernandez, as Ryan Divish writes.

NL East

• The numbers don’t add up for the Phillies.

• Bartolo Colon had his first hit in a decade.

• Andrew Heaney is set for his debut.

• Evan Gattis extended his hitting streak.

NL Central

• The bullpen woes are mounting for the Pirates.

• From the Elias Sports Bureau: Gregory Polanco hit safely in his eighth straight game to start his career, tying Spencer Adams in 1923 for the longest hitting streak from the start of a career in Pirates history.

• The Reds need more bullpen reliability.

• The Cardinals are a little surprised by the Brewers' effort to get votes for Jonathan Lucroy.

NL West

• Kirk Gibson talked about the plunking.

AL East

• The Blue Jays continue to struggle in New York.

• Jeremy Hellickson needs to increase his innings.

AL Central

• Jose Abreu clubbed his 20th homer.

• Omar Infante is really hot at the plate.

• The Indians' rotation was shaken up by a rainout.

AL West

• Ron Washington admires his former team in Oakland.

• Sean Doolittle of the Athletics had two strikeouts in his save against the Rangers. He now has 48 strikeouts and one walk on the season. From Elias: Doolittle is the first pitcher in MLB's modern era (since 1900) to record at least 45 strikeouts in a season prior to issuing his second walk.

• Derek Norris has All-Star credentials.

• Scott Feldman had a good start, but the Astros lost.

• The Angels' use of Raul Ibanez is drawing criticism.


• Brad Ausmus apologized for something he said.

• The granddaughter of George Steinbrenner is working to bring a musical to Broadway.

• The Padres honored Tony Gwynn.

• Richard Durrett was as helpful and as good and as nice a person as you would hope to meet in your lifetime; his death is just stunning, and is heartbreaking.

The Rangers are doing something really great on behalf of his family. Jon Daniels wants people to record Durrett's work.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Angels' bullpen struggles continue.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
An evaluator mentioned to me earlier this week that the Angels' bullpen is the worst he has seen on that team in 20 years. I disagree, but his point was that the team lacks relievers who consistently throw strikes and get ahead in the count.

His words could not have been seemed more prophetic. On Thursday, Cam Bedrosian and Ernesto Frieri kept throwing noncompetitive pitches -- so far out of the strike zone that hitters aren't even tempted to swing -- until they were backed into a corner. Then, with a 1-2 count and the bases loaded, Nick Swisher clubbed a walk-off grand slam.

The Angels rank 25th in bullpen ERA, just ahead of the Rockies and the Blue Jays, despite the fact that the team's relatively sturdy rotation has limited the number of bullpen innings. But Angels relievers have a staggering 99 walks in 206 innings, and only four bullpens have a worse K/BB ratio.

Check out the innings, home run and walk totals for some of the team's key relievers:

Kevin Jepsen 25 1/3 innings, 2 homers, 12 walks
Ernesto Frieri 29 1/3 innings, 8 homers, 7 walks
Cam Bedrosian 5 2/3 innings, 1 homer, 7 walks

We're not even halfway through the season and the Angels have already used 18 different relievers in 2014, so they are trying to find solutions, trying various combinations. Joe Smith has helped against right-handed hitters, for sure, and while Mike Morin has not been used in high-leverage situation, he has had good results. But Fernando Salas just went on the 15-day disabled list, and the Angels don't have a left-handed reliever.

Something has to give, and in the weeks ahead, the relief market should be comparatively flush, as teams such as the Cubs (left-hander James Russell?), Padres (closer Huston Street?) and Diamondbacks (Brad Ziegler?) sell off their spare parts. Simply put, the Angels need some relief for what appears to be an otherwise dangerous team.

As for Thursday, Frieri simply left the ball up in the zone, as he told reporters after the game. But there were some Mike Scioscia bullpen head-scratchers, writes Mike DiGiovanna. From his story:
"I'm fighting, man, I'm working, watching video, asking questions, but it seems like nothing is going my way," said Frieri, who is 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA and three blown saves in 32 games. "I miss one pitch in every outing, I get hurt. It's crazy. It's frustrating."

Scioscia offered this explanation for starting the 10th inning with Bedrosian rather than Frieri: "Ernie has been struggling a bit, so we wanted to give them a fresh look," Scioscia said. "They haven't seen Bedrock yet. We had confidence he was going to get it done, and if we needed Ernie to bail him out, he was there. In trying to build the back end of our bullpen, Bedrock has a good arm, we feel he can handle it, and he didn't get it done today."

Extra-inning walk-off grand slams, Indians history*
Year Player Opponent Inning
Thursday Nick Swisher Angels 10
1992 Carlos Martinez Mariners 12
1962 Don Dillard Tigers 13
*Source: ESPN Stats & Info
It was a big moment for the Indians, as Paul Hoynes writes. The Indians have a big series with Detroit this weekend, as Terry Pluto writes.

From ESPN Stats & Info on Swisher's homer: Swisher's walk-off grand slam in Cleveland in the 10th inning Thursday gave the Indians 11 wins in their past 12 home games.

Most walk-off wins, 2014 season

Indians 6
Pirates 6#
Marlins 6
White Sox 6
Red Sox 5
#Includes Thursday's win

Around the league

• Hope you got to read Jayson Stark's piece on the developing trade market. As he noted, the Rays' mentality is to try to win, and they put it all together in a shutout of the Astros on Thursday.

• There is a lot of concern and anticipation among the rank and file within the Padres' organization about looming change in light of the team's deep struggles. The Padres are 31-42, with one of the worst offensive showings in history. Meanwhile, Jedd Gyorko's foot problems persist, and Yonder Alonso was placed on the disabled list.

• Scott Kazmir continues to be tremendous. He shut down the Red Sox on Thursday and is an All-Star candidate. Meanwhile, Brad Mills, acquired by the A's for $1, is preparing for his first Oakland start.

• The Tigers salvaged the final game of their series against the Royals. Joe Nathan looked much better with his new mechanics.

• This is a great time to be a Royals fan, writes Sam Mellinger.

• On Thursday's podcast, Royals closer Greg Holland talked about going out in public and rarely being noticed -- except when people mention his size and girth -- and Keith Law and I kicked around the back stories behind Clayton Kershaw's curveball and slider.

• The Giants are in the market, evaluating their options, and their recent swoon has fueled these talks. I'll say it again: Jeff Samardzija would be perfect for them in so many ways.

• Bryce Harper looked good in a batting practice session Friday.

• Reds manager Bryan Price was very unhappy with Thursday's loss to Pittsburgh.

• Billy Hamilton continues to make a case for being of the best defensive outfielders in the majors. On Thursday, he had a nice sliding catch and later made a great catch going up against the fence.

• The Blue Jays' lead in the AL East is dwindling: They were swept in Yankee Stadium again, as Ken Fidlin writes, and the team needs upgrades, Richard Griffin writes.

• The Yankees, meanwhile, closed out the series with a lot of speed. The watered-down AL East is there for the taking, Kevin Kernan writes.

• I wrote here recently about Oakland's interest in adding starting pitching to prepare for the possible stress on the rest of the staff. I think there are two sure things before the trade deadline:

1. The Yankees will add a starting pitcher.
2. The Athletics will add a starting pitcher.

• The Red Sox need to start capitalizing on the AL East opportunities.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Cardinals are rationing starting pitcher Michael Wacha's workload.

2. The Mariners are close to signing their No. 1 pick.

Dings and dents

1. Gavin Floyd fractured his elbow after six great innings against the Nationals. Just awful. Here's how it happened. Meanwhile, Alex Wood is progressing quickly at Triple-A.

2. David DeJesus has landed on the disabled list.

3. Gregor Blanco is ready to step in if Angel Pagan need to be placed on the disabled list.

4. Reid Brignac sprained his left ankle.

Thursday's games

1. Mets starter Zack Wheeler had a great game Thursday. From ESPN Stats & Info on how he won:

A) Hitters chased 63.6 percent of his pitches out of the zone in two-strike counts, and he struck out a career-high six batters on pitches out of the zone, a career high.
B) He turned up the heat, firing a season-high 59 fastballs of at least 95 mph.
C) Hitters took a season-high 44.4 percent of his first-pitch fastballs for called strikes (8 of 18).

2. The White Sox were taken down by Joe Mauer.

3. Yovani Gallardo was The Man for the Brewers.

4. A 30-year-old made his big league debut and was outstanding.

5. Once again, the Mariners wasted a strong pitching performance. In a related note, it was written here (and elsewhere) before Kendrys Morales signed with the Twins: For $7.5 million, why didn't he wind up back with the Mariners?

6. Andrew Heaney looked great in his debut, as Manny Navarro writes.

7. Houston's losing streak has reached four games.

8. Ryan Howard is on a roll.

9. Russell Martin ended Thursday's game with a walk-off walk.

AL East

• Caleb Joseph is enjoying his time in the big leagues.

• Jake Peavy's run of bad luck continued.

AL Central

• Brad Ausmus sees too much effort in his hitters, and the manager's judgment is being put to the test, writes Bob Wojnowski. There has been a backlash to something he said the other day.

• Jose Abreu rates among the best sluggers.

AL West

• Alex Rios is making his 2015 option look like a no-brainer for the Rangers. Meanwhile, the team should be wary about rushing Joey Gallo, writes Evan Grant.

NL East

• Reliever Kevin Gregg talked about why he chose the Marlins.

NL Central

• Joe Torre acknowledged an MLB replay mistake with a statement Thursday, stemming from an overturned call that went against the Pirates on Wednesday. Here's what the statement said:
"[Wednesday] night's play at home plate was one of the most difficult calls that our umpires have faced this season, given that the positioning of the catcher at home plate was necessary to record the force out. After evaluating the play and the details of the review, we recognize that this play was not the type that should have resulted in a violation of Rule 7.13.

The goal of Rule 7.13 is to prevent egregious home plate collisions, and despite how challenging these situations can be, we have made important progress in accomplishing that goal."

This was exactly the right thing to do.

• Shelby Miller was fortunate to escape injury. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny should have joked about the Jonathan Lucroy video, writes Bernie Miklasz.

• It has been mind over matter for Starlin Castro.

• Ryan Braun is about to play in the 1,000th game of his major league career.

NL West

• Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter is ranked by Pedro Moura.

• Kirk Gibson deserves a chance to stay, writes Scott Bordow.

• The Rockies are struggling to keep starting pitchers in the game, writes Patrick Saunders.

• A Giants reliever has been dominant, as writes Alex Pavlovic.


• Vanderbilt faces Texas today.

• Tino Martinez will be honored this weekend.

• The Padres will hold a public memorial for Tony Gwynn next Thursday. Here are 19 ways we refused to let Tony Gwynn go this week.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Examining Trout's baserunning 'issue'.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- A small smile developed on the face of Los Angeles Angels bench coach Dino Ebel when he was asked about Mike Trout's tendency to make his turn on the bases at something close to a right angle, an indication that this imperfection has been discussed with the game’s best player.

“He’s aware of it,” said Ebel, still smiling. “He has gotten better.”

The path of baserunners moving at full speed through a base will typically follow something of an arc. But Trout tends to get to a base and turn, cutting off the arc; he reaches the bag then moves left. While it’s not a style that Tom Emanski would recommend in instructional videos, it’s much more of a curiosity than a problem, because there’s no evidence that this actually slows him.

“He’s got special talent,” said Ebel, “and he can do it that way.”

Trout said that as a youngster he used to run the bases differently, but when he reached the minors, he worked on reducing the angle of his turn.

No matter what route he takes, opponents and base coaches will hear Trout as he nears a bag, a loud sound that is a combination of Trout breathing like a sprinter and his feet hitting the ground at a high rate of speed beneath his 235 pounds. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez mentioned last weekend that he could hear Trout running from the home dugout in Atlanta, and Angels first-base coach Alfredo Griffin said that when Trout is halfway up the first-base line, his run is at full volume.

“He sounds like somebody’s chasing him,” Griffin said, chuckling.

Ebel said that when he was the Angels’ third-base coach, opposing infielders would glance at him after hearing Trout run for the first time, “with wide eyes. You get a lot of ‘wows’ from shortstops and third basemen.

“It’s a weird noise, a powerful run. This place packs 42,000 [fans] and they are loud, but I can still hear it when he gets closer.”

Trout and the Angels face Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN). Howie Kendrick got a walk-off hit for the Angels against the Rangers on Saturday. Albert Pujols was out of the starting lineup.

Darvish continues to improve

If Darvish stays on schedule, he would likely start the final Sunday before the All-Star break. Otherwise, he would be an excellent candidate to start for the American League, because he is off to the best start in his three seasons in the majors, with a 2.39 ERA in his first 13 outings. He has 109 strikeouts and just 32 walks in 90 1/3 innings, while his approach to getting hitters out has shifted this season.

Darvish has used his fastball much more and relied on his cut fastball and slider less, according to FanGraphs. Last year, he threw his fastball on 38.2 percent of his pitches, and this year, that percentage has rocketed to 57.8 percent.

Chris Gimenez, who has been working as Darvish’s catcher, said the thought is that if the right-hander can get ahead in the count or get outs early in the count, this will enable him to stay in games longer. Rangers manager Ron Washington said, “He needs to establish the fastball.”

In 2013, Darvish averaged 4.10 pitches per plate appearance, the third most in the majors behind Chris Tillman and Shelby Miller. This year, he ranks 64th, at 3.73, a dramatic improvement.

We’ll have more on Darvish in Monday’s column.

Nick Martinez had a good start and lost Saturday's game. Washington was not happy with an umpire’s actions.

Around the league

• On Friday’s podcast, Barry Bonds discussed his friendship and conversations about hitting with Tony Gwynn.

• The director in the Tampa Bay Rays' broadcast truck opted to pan over the scout section Friday night, and they were there, pens in hand, jotting down data, following velocity readings. David Price has made 163 starts in his career, thrown 1,088 2/3 innings and won a Cy Young Award, but general managers want to know the latest intel.

Price had his fourth consecutive start of 10 or more strikeouts in a 3-1 loss to the Astros. In those four outings -- recent starts mattering most to rival scouts and general managers -- he has thrown 31 1/3 innings, walked four and struck out 43, allowing nine earned runs.

[+] EnlargeDavid Price
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
David Price continues to post dominant numbers as trade rumors swirl.
His velocity readings continue to tick upward as the season progresses, just as they did last year. While there is talk among folks with other AL East teams that Price’s stuff has flattened out and that his limited range of pitches -- he doesn’t have a great breaking ball -- will be an increasing problem as he ages, a rival evaluator took issue with that in conversation the other day.

“I totally disagree,” he said. “I see his cutter becoming more and more of a weapon. What I’m seeing is a left-hander with a track record of being an ace who is throwing out 10 strikeouts and one walk every start.”

Price will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and some teams have focused on the question of signing him to a long-term deal after next year, along with the cost of prospects to get him now. But the evaluator who spoke of his cutter believes some teams won’t worry about the free agency.

“Because this is a guy you trade for if you want to try to win a World Series,” he said. “You get him for this year and for next year and he makes your team better, and you can match [Price] up against anybody. You worry about the cost of signing him later, and if he walks away, that’s the way it goes. But you’re adding a No. 1 starter who can be a difference-maker for two seasons.”

The Giants are said to like Price a whole lot. The Cardinals certainly would have the prospects to get Price if they devoted themselves to making a trade. They have a surplus in pitching and outfielders, for sure, and could build an offer around Carlos Martinez or Oscar Taveras. The Angels could use Price, although they probably couldn’t match the Cardinals’ offer if St. Louis got aggressive.

One scout suggested that if the Rays want to trade Price, now might be the best time because the pitching market could gain volume in the weeks ahead, creating more flexibility and more options for buyers. The Rays have arguably the best pitcher available in a seller’s market right now.

A Price trade must happen soon, writes Marc Topkin. In the Rays’ clubhouse, the playoffs are still not out of the question.

• The Phillies need to trade left-hander Cole Hamels, writes Bob Brookover.

• Vidal Nuno is the most likely to be replaced in the Yankees’ rotation, and he struggled Saturday.

• Justin Verlander pitched seven strong innings, allowing one earned run, in Detroit’s 5-4 win Saturday, which is a promising performance, writes Drew Sharp.

But that outing won’t answer all the questions about the right-hander. John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Information sent along this analysis of Verlander going into Saturday’s start:
Less than 20 percent of the fastballs he’s thrown this season have been 95 mph or faster. In 2009, when he finished third in the Cy Young voting, nearly 75 percent of his fastballs were at least 95 mph, and as recently as 2011 -- when he won the Cy Young and MVP awards -- more than half the fastballs he threw were 95 mph or faster.

In the past five seasons, his total number and rate of fastballs thrown 95 mph or faster have both decreased, from highs of 1,882 and 73.6 percent in 2009 to 644 and 31.3 percent in 2013; he's currently at 175 and 19.4 percent in 2014.

He’s being hit hard up in the strike zone. When you’re not throwing heat, major league hitters will hit fastballs up in the zone. Verlander used to blow hitters away with high heaters.

In 2009, 42 percent of his strikeouts came on fastballs in the upper half of the strike zone or above. It had dropped almost in half by 2011, when he won the MVP and Cy Young awards, but this season, only 16 percent of his strikeouts have come on high fastballs. Back in 2009, he led the majors in strikeouts with 269, and 113 of them were on fastballs up in the zone. That number alone would’ve tied for 59th in the league in strikeouts overall.

His strikeout rate on fastballs in the upper half was 24.4 percent in 2009 and 17.5 percent in his award-winning 2011 season. But this year, only 8.4 percent of the fastballs he throws in the upper half have resulted in strikeouts. Perhaps just as troublesome, more than 12 percent of them result in a walk, easily his highest rate in the past six seasons. Opponents are hitting .297 and slugging .486 against his fastballs in the upper half -- way higher than .200 and .322 in 2011.

Look, every pitcher loses velocity as he gets older and is forced into making adjustments. Verlander is a tremendous athlete who has a lot of weapons from which to choose. Verlander was dominant at the end of last season after fixing flaws in his delivery, and I think he has enough range in his stuff to continue to find ways to win.

Verlander looked good Saturday, as Lynn Henning writes.

• Josh Harrison had another good night at the plate to propel the Pirates.

Even after Neil Walker returns, Harrison needs to play. Someplace.

• The Brewers won with the help of a bizarre play.

Here's the play, a great heads-up effort by Jean Segura.

• The new rule about blocking home plate is maddening, writes Rob Biertempfel.

It’s worth remembering that the primary objective of the rule change is being achieved: Catchers aren’t getting hurt.

• The Yankees honored Tino Martinez on Saturday. The team might want to rethink its immortalization process, writes Tyler Kepner.

Old-Timers’ Day never gets old, writes Mark Herrmann.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Questions loom about whether a Mets minority owner will have to sell his stake in the team.

2. The Red Sox need to call up Mookie Betts, writes John Tomase.

3. Xander Bogaerts was benched for a day.

4. The Tigers prevailed after Joe Nathan blew a save.

5. The White Sox have a lot of needs.

6. A decision against the Diamondbacks paid off for Bruce Bochy.

7. Oakland is likely to keep Brad Mills in its rotation.

Dings and dents

1. Bud Norris was injured during the Orioles’ win Saturday.

2. Norichika Aoki landed on the disabled list, and Justin Maxwell returned.

3. Kolten Wong also landed on the disabled list.

4. Rafael Furcal was injured again.

5. Chase Headley had an epidural.

Saturday’s games

1. Doug Fister dominated against the Braves. Anthony Rendon is making it look easy.

2. Jacob deGrom had a nice outing, as Kristie Ackert writes.

3. The Red Sox were beaten by a hit in the late innings.

4. Jason Vargas pitched well but the Royals lost.

5. Joe Mauer got another big hit.

6. The White Sox are off to a rough start on a long road trip.

7. The Jays could not come up with a second miracle.

8. Oakland won after a disputed foul tip.

9. Josh Beckett was really good, again.

NL East

• Marlon Byrd is embracing a leadership role, writes Marc Narducci.

• The Mets’ choice of Chris Young over Nelson Cruz has not worked out.

• Julio Teheran and Evan Gattis disagreed about pitch selection. Here’s video of the sequence leading to the balk.

• Gattis extended his hit streak to 20 games Saturday, becoming the fourth player since 2001 to have a 20-game hit streak while playing catcher in each of those games.

Longest hit streak while playing catcher since 2001

2003: Jason Kendall, 23
2003: Paul Lo Duca, 23
2003: Victor Martinez, 22
2014: Evan Gattis, 20*
2004: Jason Kendall, 20
*Longest by Braves catcher since 1900

NL Central

• From ESPN Stats & Information, how Adam Wainwright won Saturday:

A) Threw breaking balls (curveball or slider) on 59.6 percent of his pitches, his fourth-highest rate in the past five seasons
B) Hitters were 1-for-18 with five strikeouts and only one hard-hit ball in at-bats ending with a breaking ball
C) Eighteen outs recorded with breaking balls, the fourth most in a start in the past five seasons (one shy of career high)

• This time, the Reds made eight runs stand up, writes John Erardi.

Billy Hamilton, MLB Career
Stat First 62 Games Past 19 Games
BA .259 .329
OBP .302 .357
SLG .351 .519
SB 32 12
Note: .412 BA, 1.180 OPS, six SB in past seven games
• Billy Hamilton has been on quite a streak as of late, as seen in the chart at right from ESPN Stats & Information.

• Mike Olt is slumping, but the front office still believes in him.

• The Cubs’ struggles in signing Jeff Samardzija will haunt them, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

NL West

• A Giants rookie made a mistake after being called up, as Henry Schulman writes.

• Age is just a number to LaTroy Hawkins, as Patrick Saunders writes.

• Yasiel Puig intends to keep playing aggressively.

AL East

• When J.J. Hardy homered, he got the cold shoulder, as Dan Connolly writes.

AL Central

• These are the life and times of Omar Vizquel.

• The Twins are emphasizing the right things in their player development, writes Jim Souhan.

AL West

• Brad Miller continues to show improvement.

Other stuff

• A private memorial for Tony Gwynn was held Saturday at San Diego State, as Barry Bloom writes.

Brett Butler, who survived cancer, reflected on his tobacco use.

A tobacco ban is not coming any time soon.

• The Padres’ Alex Torres -- a former teammate of Alex Cobb, who was struck by a line drive last year -- became the first pitcher to wear a protective cap. Here’s the video.

• Mike Matheny is frustrated with the replay system, writes Rick Hummel.

• Joey Votto is enjoying his life more on and off the field.

• Scott Boras finally has a Hall of Fame client, writes Tyler Kepner.

• Vanderbilt and Virginia will meet in the College World Series best-of-three final, writes Eric Olson.

And today will be better than yesterday.

The big fix for the next Padres GM.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- As folks in the baseball world waited for San Diego Padres GM Josh Byrnes to be fired last week, a rival executive ticked off the performances of San Diego's various position players and noted how Murphy's Law was embedded in the entire lineup. What could go wrong has gone wrong.

Just take a journey around the field, starting at catcher: Yasmani Grandal batted .297 in 60 games in 2012 before being hit by a Biogenesis-related suspension last year. He is hitting .191 with a .643 OPS this season. That ranks last among all players with at least 150 plate appearances at his position.

First baseman Yonder Alonso, who hit .273 in 2012 and .281 in 2013, has hit just .210 this season with a .591 OPS -- last among qualified first basemen in the big leagues.

Second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who hit 23 homers last season, has a .483 OPS this season while battling foot problems. That's last among second basemen with at least 200 plate appearances by a margin of almost 150 points.

Shortstop Everth Cabrera, who is playing his first full season since serving a suspension for being linked to Biogenesis, is hitting .222 with a .561 OPS. That's last among players at his position in the big leagues.

Third baseman Chase Headley has been playing with a herniated disc and is batting .200. He has not come close to replicating his amazing 2012 second half, when he had a .978 OPS and was in the MVP conversation. Headley's OPS this season is not last at his position but is 25th of 28.

Among the outfielders, Cameron Maybin opened the season on the disabled list, Chris Denorfia has a .649 OPS and Will Venable is hitting .204. Seth Smith is a rare success story for the Padres' offense, hitting .286 with a .915 OPS. Carlos Quentin was hurt again at the start of the season, and he's posted just 78 at-bats and a .192 average.

It would be virtually impossible to create a group of players who might fare worse offensively unless you went back in time to find some teams from the dead ball era.

The Padres' ownership -- which did not hire Byrnes in 2010, when he was brought on board by Jeff Moorad, since deposed -- decided not to wait around to see whether this was ridiculously bad luck, the Padres were undercut by a false expectations created by Cabrera's and Grandal's use of performance-enhancing drugs or the offense would turn around.

Rather, the Padres decided that with decisions looming before the July 31 trade deadline -- Huston Street and others may well be traded -- they want to identify the next GM as soon as possible, to make decisions and create a new vision.

Fair? Not when compared to the payrolls and years committed to other general managers. But because Byrnes didn't possess the patronage of his current bosses and because the team's incredibly bad offense had made it unwatchable, his departure had become a matter of when and not if, especially after the Padres set a club record in payroll:

Padres' Opening Day payrolls
2014: $90.6M
2013: $68.3M
2012: $55.6M
2011: $45.8M
2010: $37.8M

During the winter, some rival officials believed that the Padres had put together a team that could have a representative offense. Headley was bound to play better, those executives thought. Cabrera and Grandal would come back from their suspensions and produce. Alonso has long been regarded as a solid major league hitter in the making. Folks with other teams didn't regard Venable or Gyorko as significant stars, but decent players? Absolutely.

But none of them except Smith panned out this year. It's as if Byrnes rolled a pair of dice a dozen times and came up with snake eyes 11 times.

Now the Padres' owners are looking for Byrnes' replacement, and among the names that have been mentioned within the organization are Mike Hazen, assistant GM of the Red Sox; Jason McLeod, now with the Cubs; Billy Eppler, a San Diego product and assistant GM of the Yankees; and David Forst, assistant GM of the Oakland Athletics. The Padres hope to quickly hire a GM -- it helps that they're the only team looking at the moment -- and could look at the Rangers' Thad Levine, the Braves' John Coppolella, Oakland's Farhan Zaidi.

Mike Dee, the Padres' president, talked about what's ahead. From Corey Brock's story:
There had been rumblings and rumors locally that the team was considering changes, either up top with Byrnes or possibly manager Bud Black. Mike Dee, team president and CEO of the Padres, said the Padres will keep Black at least through the end of the season.

"This was a decision that was not made in a day or two or a week or two. The last couple months, we've seen a team we had high expectations for. Those expectations have not been reached," said Dee.

Assistant general managers A.J. Hinch and Fred Uhlman Jr. and Omar Minaya, the senior vice president of baseball operations, will oversee the general manager duties on an interim basis.

Dee said the search for a new general manager "begins immediately." And while Hinch and Minaya will certainly merit consideration, there seems to be a sentiment that the hire will come from the outside -- and, quite possibly, could occur soon.

"I think this is a pretty juicy job for someone who wants to be a general manager," Dee said. "… It will be someone with a near-, mid- and long-term vision of what we want to be as an organization."
Around the league

• The Cardinals have descended into uncertainty after losing Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia to injuries -- and Wacha's diagnosis sounds problematic, at the very least. From Rick Hummel's story:
One was not a surprise. Lefthander Jaime Garcia has been there before with elbow and, more often, shoulder troubles and the way he talked -- or didn't talk -- after his latest start Friday smacked loudly of renewed discomfort in his left shoulder, which was operated on last May. Garcia tried to throw a bullpen session Sunday and, in [GM John] Mozeliak's words, "It didn't go well."

The other move, in Mozeliak's words, was "a little shocking." Righthander Michael Wacha, who said he never really had been hurt before, will go on the disabled list with what Mozeliak called a "stress reaction" to his scapula, or the back side of his shoulder. The condition was found on a CT scan and an MRI done a few days ago, Mozeliak said.

"It's disappointing to learn of this," Mozeliak said, "but he's too young and valuable to take risks with. This is not a very common injury to pitchers and one that we don't have a ton of experience on how to deal with it."

• The Jays lost a couple of position players to injury, Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie.

• Sonny Gray is being skipped in the Oakland rotation, writes Susan Slusser.

• Matt Shoemaker is 27 years old, and after being undrafted, he is having his first success in the big leagues -- because he's been more refined, in the eyes of manager Mike Scioscia, mixing a great splitter and slider with a fastball good enough to beat major league hitters. On Sunday night he beat the Rangers, and after he finished 7 2/3 innings, he did not retreat to the clubhouse; rather, he lingered in the dugout, waiting at the front railing, taking in the final outs. As he waited for a postgame interview, teammates covered him with a bucket of ice and some Gatorade, and he never stopped smiling.

Shoemaker's is one of the best kinds of stories that pop up every year in the majors.

He's won five straight decisions, Joe Resnick writes.

Shoemaker beat Yu Darvish, who struggled terribly with his command and allowed at least four runs for the second straight start -- the first time that's happened to him to August 2012. The Rangers are five games under .500 for the first time since 2008.

• Masahiro Tanaka was really good on Old-Timers' Day but lost.

• Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli hit a homer and stole home in Sunday's game. According to Elias, he's the first Red Sox player to do that since Rico Petrocelli on Sept. 9, 1967.

• The Tigers found their footing with a sweep of the Indians, Drew Sharp writes.

From ESPN Stats & Info, how Tigers starter Max Scherzer won:

A. He threw a changeup on 29 percent of his pitches, his fourth-highest rate in the past five seasons.
B. He recorded five strikeouts with his changeup, tied for his third-most in a game in the past five seasons (tied for most this season).
C. He recorded eight outs with his changeup, tied for a season high.

• Yankees manager Joe Girardi was really angry.

• So was Rangers manager Ron Washington, who had been so angry about the actions of an umpire in Saturday's game that he decided not to take out the lineup card Sunday night -- but wound up being ejected anyway.

• Jason Hammel pitched well. An executive with another team predicts Hammel will make one more start for the Cubs, at most. "Now's the time to move him," the official said.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. A couple of teams are interested in Daniel Murphy, writes Andy Martino.

2. The Yankees need to acquire a starting pitcher, writes Joel Sherman.

3. The Orioles signed Randy Wolf.

4. The Red Sox are not pursuing Matt Kemp, writes Rob Bradford.

5. Andy Dirks and Joel Hanrahan are making progress.

6. Danny Valencia will platoon at third base for the Royals.

7. St. Louis altered its lineup.

Dings and dents

1. Mark Teixeira is relieved his toe isn't broken.

2. Bud Norris hopes to make his next scheduled start.

3. Buck Showalter raved about Dylan Bundy's work Saturday.

4. The Cubs activated Welington Castillo.

5. Rafael Furcal is on the disabled list.

Sunday's games

1. A rookie and Madison Bumgarner led the way for the Giants against the Diamondbacks. Bumgarner is 6-1 with a 1.32 ERA in nine road starts this season (3-3, 4.57 ERA at home).

2. David Ortiz hoisted the Red Sox.

3. Brandon Cumpton shut down the Cubs, Jenn Menendez writes.

4. The Royals' offense is struggling again: They were shut down by the Mariners, Andy McCullough writes.

5. The Mariners turned to Fernando Rodney to close out a sweep.

6. The Brewers continue to play great on the road.

7. The Rays' bullpen was strong again.

8. The Rockies are in a steep tailspin.

AL East

• Brett Lawrie has evolved.

AL Central

• Paul Konerko is trying to make the most of his final season, writes Paul Sullivan.

• The Twins locked up a four-game sweep.

• Kurt Suzuki is guiding a resurgence for the Twins.

• Twins GM Terry Ryan has high praise for a prospect.

• The White Sox made history, but not in a good way.

AL West

• The Astros are sinking.

• Columnist John McGrath hopes the Mariners don't suffer another summer surprise.

NL East

• The Mets have broken out white towels, writes Tim Rohan.

• Two wins made a world of difference for the Nationals, writes Thomas Boswell.

• Cody Asche's confidence is better.

• The Braves are in second place.

• Andrelton Simmons said something nice about a teammate.

• An ugly homestand finally ended for the Marlins.

NL Central

• Gregory Polanco set a record.

• Jay Bruce can see a payoff coming.

• Todd Frazier should be an All-Star, writes Paul Daugherty. It's worth saying again: Nobody would have more fun at an All-Star Game than Frazier.

• Hal McCoy wrote about Frazier and Joey Votto.

NL West

• Kirk Gibson believes Mike Bolsinger has matured.

• Kenley Jansen regained form.

• Wilin Rosario needs to know his role, writes Terry Frei.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Conditions are perfect for a Price trade.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Only the Tampa Bay Rays know for sure what will be deemed acceptable for David Price, or when they'll be ready to say yes. But rival officials are monitoring the market in the way that meteorologists follow weather patterns, and they believe that the Rays are prepared to move the former Cy Young Award winner. As in, right now.

The Rays aren't actually close to trading Price, according to sources. But the climate is right, given Price's impending free agency after 2015 and Tampa Bay's shockingly poor play this season. The Rays' loss Monday pushed them to 12 games behind the Blue Jays in the American League East, and they are 10½ games behind in the race for the second wild card -- stunning, given the consistency of Tampa Bay's success in the past six seasons. From 2008 to 2013, the Rays averaged 91-plus wins per season, reaching the playoffs four times.

But the Rays would have to go 60-24 the rest of the season in order to achieve 91 wins, and given the loss of Matt Moore and the struggles of the rotation (19th in ERA), Evan Longoria, Wil Myers and others, there is little reason to believe Tampa Bay is poised for that kind of turnaround.

And now, Price is back to throwing the ball at a star-caliber: He has 43 strikeouts and four walks in 31S innings, with nine earned runs allowed. His velocity is climbing: In his first six starts, his average fastball velocity didn't reach 93 mph, but in five of his past eight starts, his average velocity has been 93.4 mph or higher. With Price healthy and pitching well, it makes sense for the Rays to move him while they can, rather than repeatedly absorbing the inherent risk of injury with each of his starts. The Cubs, for example, had intended to trade Matt Garza in summer 2012, but he was hurt before the July 31 deadline, and they had to wait another year to make a deal.

The expectation of rival officials is that sometime in the days ahead, some team is going to call Rays general manager Andrew Friedman with the right offer, with enough pitching included to fill Tampa Bay's organizational need. Casual fans tend to believe that Tampa Bay's strength is drafting and developing, but the Rays actually have done their best work in making trades.

Maybe it'll be the San Francisco Giants, who have good minor league pitching. Or the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have attractive trade targets in prospects such as shortstop Corey Seager and outfielder Joc Pederson. Maybe the St. Louis Cardinals, who just lost two starting pitchers to the disabled list and have a large menu of outfielder and pitching prospects to dangle.

The forecast of rival evaluators: The conditions are almost perfect for a David Price trade. Right now.

Around the league

• Jeff Samardzija, the other elite starting pitcher available, had another good outing Monday.

Respect for the players' union plays a role in Samardzija's contract talks, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.

• The Cardinals aren't going to panic, writes Bryan Burwell.

St. Louis is going to promote a pitcher to face the Rockies this week, writes Derrick Goold.

Michael Wacha's injury is alarming, writes Bernie Miklasz. These injuries increase the likelihood of a St. Louis trade, Bernie writes.

• With the Rockies in a steep spiral, the odds may increase that Jorge De La Rosa will be a good second-tier candidate in the starting pitcher trade market, joining the likes of Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy. The Colorado left-hander's surface numbers are pedestrian -- a 4.75 ERA in 15 starts -- but the first thing every rival GM is checking is his home/road splits, and they are somewhat intriguing. He's actually fared worse in road games, with a 5.85 ERA, than at home (3.58). Only three starters in the big leagues have a worse walk rate than De La Rosa, but he's 17th in ground ball percentage.

He's 33 years old, and while the Rockies could theoretically hang onto him with a qualifying offer, that may be a stretch for a team with a payroll just shy of $100 million.

• The Tigers have chips to bargain as the trade deadline nears, writes Lynn Henning.

• Tim Kurkjian ran the sausage race in Milwaukee and his pre-race prediction turned out to be dead on.

• On Monday's podcast, Pirates legend Dave Parker discussed his career, and Jerry Crasnick talked about San Diego's change in general managers.

• I liked the captain picks for the Home Run Derby -- Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista. In working the American League side in the Derby the last few years, it's evident by Bautista's preparation how seriously he takes the event. Hopefully, Bautista will call Mike Trout and ask him to participate. This would be like having Michael Jordan in the dunk contest: He's the best player in the sport and if he's willing, it would be great for the event.

As for the All-Star Game: It would be a bummer if Masahiro Tanaka doesn't start the game, writes John Harper. I agree completely -- but as Joel Sherman writes, the Yankees have their own agenda with this.

• Billy Eppler, the assistant general manager for the New York Yankees, is well respected within the sport and is regarded as a serious candidate for the Padres' GM job. He grew up in San Diego as a fan of the Padres and Tony Gwynn, which won't be a primary consideration but may well be something that works in his favor; he knows the franchise and taking the job with the Padres would mean going home for him.

The Padres needed a good outing and they got one. Odrisamer Despaigne became the fourth pitcher in Padres history to throw seven scoreless innings in his major league debut.

A replay review went against the Padres, and I don't blame Bud Black for being upset how the replay center placed Seth Smith on third base. He would've scored easily on this long hit by Yasmani Grandal.

• The Cardinals have major pitching concerns, with Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia going down, but Lance Lynn was excellent Monday, winning in Colorado.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how he won:
A) Forced hitters to swing and miss on 31.4 percent of their swings, his second-highest miss percentage of the season.
B) Right-handed hitters were 0-for-17, the first time this season he did not allow a hit to a righty.
C) He threw a season-low three pitches with a three-ball count.

• Seattle is within 1 1/2 games of second place in the AL West after thumping the Red Sox with a burst of runs. More power and more hitting could make this a season to remember for the Mariners, writes Larry Stone.

• The Orioles may be the most dangerous AL East team, given their overall talent, and they had a great win Monday, when Chris Davis hit a walk-off pinch-hit three-run homer.

From Elias: Davis joins Jim Thome and Mickey Mantle as the only players in the last 50 years to hit a pinch-hit walk-off home after previously hitting 50 home runs in a season in their career.
• Few players are as respected within the sport as Dustin Pedroia for the consistent ferocity with which he plays. Some rival evaluators wonder if Pedroia -- who plays through some injuries that we know about and others that we never know about -- is wearing down.

Justin Havens of ESPN Research sent along this analysis of Dustin Pedroia:

Last season, Pedroia battled through a thumb injury for essentially the entire year, and it showed in the power department -- his .415 slugging percentage was the lowest in any season in which he received 100 plate appearances. Whether he's dealing with an injury yet again is unknown, but the slide in production has continued -- entering Monday's action, Pedroia's batting average (.265), on-base percentage (.336) and slugging percentage (.381) would all be career-worsts. This continued downturn comes in the first year of his eight-year, $110M extension that keeps him in Boston through 2021.

Further, Pedroia is putting fewer balls in the air while seeing fewer of the balls he does hit in the air turn into home runs. His slugging percentage on fly balls has dropped from .630 from 2011-12 to .485 since the start of last season.

Pitchers are becoming increasingly comfortable pounding the strike zone against Pedroia. In fact, no batter has seen a higher rate of pitches in the strike zone this season than Pedroia.

1. Dustin Pedroia, BOS: 56.6 percent
2. J.J. Hardy, BAL: 56.0 percent
3. Dee Gordon, LAD: 55.8 percent
4. B.J. Upton, ATL: 55.3 percent
MLB average: 49.0%

Monday's games

1. The Red Sox were wiped out in Seattle.

2. Devin Mesoraco is on a serious roll.

3. The Jays played without Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista, but won.

4. Matt Cain was hit hard, and he's now 1-6 with a 4.82 ERA, as John Shea writes. I've always thought of Cain as a work-fast, throw-strikes pitcher, but his pace on the mound has dropped markedly, in how much time he takes between pitches.

5. The Rockies have lost seven games in a row.

6. Chase Whitley had a tough inning.

7. Gio Gonzalez had a nice outing.

8. Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen got it done.

9. Jarrod Dyson had a good night as the Royals ended a losing streak.

10. Chris Sale threw well, but the White Sox's bullpen blew it.

11. The Marlins' pitching dominated.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Felix Doubront could be trade bait.

2. Clay Buchholz is likely to take the mound Wednesday for Boston.

3. Chris Young may be cut by the Mets, writes Adam Rubin.

4. Ryan Zimmerman took grounders at third base.

5. Torii Hunter is willing to take a lesser role if the Tigers keep winning.

Dings and dents

1. Dylan Bundy's next rehab start could be in Double-A, says Dan Duquette.

2. Neil Walker is set to return to the Pirates' lineup.

3. Brett Lawrie landed on the disabled list.

4. Carlos Correa is going to miss a significant amount of time.

NL West

• Tony La Russa is still learning on the job, as Nick Piecoro writes.

• Zack Greinke was back in Kansas City and was booed during his loss, as Bill Shaikin writes. From the piece:
Might the fans have booed out of spite, since the Dodgers play in an economic league in which the Royals cannot hope to compete?

"I don't know," Greinke said. "I was pretty rude on the way out. They have every right to be mad at me."

Any regrets?

"I didn't want to be rude," he said. "I felt I had to in order to get traded, and I wanted to get traded."
NL Central

• Billy Hamilton may be the best center fielder in the majors.

• Aramis Ramirez has moved into first place in the All-Star voting.

NL East

• The Phillies' offense: Not good.

• Jimmy Rollins was honored.

• The division race might give the Marlins their best shot at the playoffs.

• Luis Avilan perseveres, writes Erica Hernandez.

AL Central

• From Elias: Jose Abreu hit his 22nd home run of the season, the fourth-most HRhomers for a rookie before the All-Star break since 1933, which was the year of the first All-Star Game.

1987 Mark McGwire: 33
1950 Al Rosen: 25
1986 Jose Canseco: 23
2014 Jose Abreu: 22

• The Royals are used to dealing with ups and downs, writes Sam Mellinger.

• Cleveland has taken a different approach than Oakland, writes Paul Hoynes.

• Mike Berardino writes about a Twins prospect who could be headed for the Futures Game.

AL West

• Stephen Vogt is making a strong case to stay.

• Billy Beane learned the numbers game from Sandy Alderson.

• The Rangers are exploring the trade market.

• Kevin Jepsen wants an extended stay at the back end of the Angels' bullpen.


• The Giants paid tribute to Tony Gwynn, as mentioned within this John Shea article.

• By all accounts, the service for Richard Durrett was moving.

• Derek Jeter turns 40 on Thursday, as Bob Klapisch writes.

• Boston's official scorer reversed a decision and David Ortiz picked up points on his batting average.

• Vanderbilt plays for the first men's NCAA championship in any sport tonight, after winning Monday with a big inning.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Top 10 fantasy baseball prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
When the Philadelphia Phillies traded right-hander Trevor May to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that saw them acquire center fielder Ben Revere two winters ago, it was thought by many to be a steep price to pay, as the right-hander was one of the system's best starting pitching prospects. Because Philadelphia's rotation was considered essentially infallible for the next few seasons, it was a somewhat understandable risk to acquire a center fielder of the future.

While Revere hasn't been terrible in his time with the Phillies, it's safe to say that if Trevor May shows a semblance of the stuff he has for Triple-A Rochester this year, the Twins will come out the winners in that deal.

"He's improved quite a bit," an NL scout said. "There's always been talent in his right arm, but you always saw a guy who was more projection than finished product. I wouldn't say he's finished developing by any stretch of the imagination, but I've seen him twice this year, and each time I've come away saying that is a guy who can get big league hitters out right now. He's a legit mid-rotation talent, in my opinion."

[+] EnlargeTrevor May
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
Trevor May is 8-4, with a 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 81 strikeouts for the Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A) this season.
Since the Phillies drafted May in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, the right-hander out of Kelso (Washington) High School has always caused scouts to salivate with his arm strength, and although not overpowering, his fastball sits in the low 90s and will touch 95.

The big improvements for May, however, are the secondary pitches. His change has always been his best off-speed offering, but it showed massive improvement in the Arizona Fall League, and it's now an above-average pitch with fade and deception from arm speed. Both his curveball and slider have shown improvement, and look to be at least average pitches at the next level, though he still needs to show more consistency with both pitches. That's a far cry from 2013, however, when one scout told me he would grade his pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale as a 60 fastball, 50 change and two 40 breaking balls.

That improved stuff has allowed May to be among the best starters in the International League, and though he didn't get off to the hottest of starts -- his ERA was 4.97 after his first six appearances -- he's been borderline dominant since mid-May, including a stretch of starts when he went 26 innings without giving up a run. His best start of the year might have been this past Monday against Pawtucket, however, as May struck out 11 in 8 1/3 innings while giving up just one run and three hits.

"That was an impressive outing," an AL East scout said. "Pawtucket's lineup isn't flawless by any stretch of the imagination, but there are big league players in it and he made a few of those guys look foolish. He commanded the fastball well, and there were a couple of changeups that he pulled the string on that I would call plus-plus. If you can do that consistently, you're going to be a quality big leaguer for a long time."

There's still work to be done for May -- particularly with the command -- and he's never going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but as a pitcher with three quality pitches and an idea of how to miss bats, he could be a quality pickup for your fantasy team for 2014 if/when the Twins decide to promote him at some point around the trade deadline.

Not only do we have three "new" names for the top 10 this week, we have a brand new top two as well. Let's get into it.

1. Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Last week: NR)
2014 stats: 1-3, 2.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 18 BB, 44 K's in 42 1/3 innings (ten starts) at Double-A Jacksonville; 3-1, 2.74 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7 BB, 16 K's in 23 innings (four starts) at Baltimore

Progress report: I'm as surprised to see Gausman back in the minor leagues as you are, but in actuality, this is a somewhat brilliant move by the Orioles to take advantage of the 26-man rule for doubleheaders; guess what team has a doubleheader on Friday? I debated leaving Gausman off the list as his inclusion is really a technicality, but if his owner in your league was foolish enough to drop the right-hander out of frustration/lack of awareness, take advantage of it and pick him up right now.

2. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox (Last week: 3)
2014 stats: .355/.443/.551, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 22 SB at Double-A Portland; .319/.402/.472, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 5 SB at Triple-A Pawtucket

Progress report: Now that's a bit more like it. Betts was outstanding this past week, hitting .366/.422/.561 with five extra-base hits and five stolen bases for good measure. The reports on his defense in the outfield have been positive, for the most part, and with Jackie Bradley Jr. still struggling with the bat, it's tough to imagine that Boston doesn't give him a chance to hit at the top of the order soon, even with Shane Victorino likely to make his return to the lineup in the next few weeks.

3. Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Last week: 1)
2014 stats: .308/.357/.498 8 HR, 47 RBIs, 1 SB at Triple-A Memphis; .189/.225/.297, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 0 SB at St. Louis

Progress report: The month of June has not been kind to Taveras, and if you count his time with St. Louis, the outfielder is hitting just .194 with just four extra-base hits since the start of the month. During that same time frame, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is .216, so there's obviously been some bad luck for the left-handed hitting outfielder as well. I still think Taveras is going to be a major factor for the Cardinals this season, but it may take an injury or trade to see him up before the trade deadline.

4. Jimmy Nelson, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers (Last week: 4)
2014 stats: 8-2, 1.79 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 27 BB, 96 K's in 90 1/3 innings (13 starts) at Triple-A Nashville; 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3 BB, 6 K's in 5 and 2/3 innings pitched (1 start) at Milwaukee

Progress report: Nelson had arguably his worst two starts of the season this past week, but at his worst, Nelson is still missing bats and limiting damage, and his 3.64 ERA in his past 12 innings isn't exactly getting clobbered; it's just that we've come to expect the right-hander to be dominant in every outing. Meanwhile, Marco Estrada continues to struggle, and the only explanation for him staying in the rotation when you have a legitimate replacement like Nelson sitting in the minor leagues is ... well, I've got nothing. The Brewers are playing well, but there are three quality teams in the division that are all within striking distance, and every start that Estrada makes and Nelson doesn't is a mistake at this point. I can't imagine they'll keep making this mistake through the end of the month.

5. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners (Last week: 5)
2014 stats: 0-0, 2.08 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 1 BB, 7 K's in four innings (one start) at High-A High Desert; 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 1 BB, 10 K's in five innings (one start) at Double-A Jackson; 1-1, 5.82 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 9 BB, 21 K's in 21 2/3 innings (five starts) at Triple-A Tacoma

Progress report: After having arguably his best outing since he was activated from the disabled list, Walker struggled Thursday in Colorado Springs, giving up six runs on seven hits over five innings of work, while walking one and striking out four. The stats are somewhat arbitrary, though, as the most important thing is that Walker has looked healthy and has thrown strikes over his past few games, and with the Mariners (somehow) in contention for the playoffs, it'd be a surprise if he's not a part of their rotation before the summer ends.

6. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Last week: 6)
2014 stats: .323/.447/.592, 17 HR, 42 RBIs, 19 SB at Triple-A Albuquerque

Progress report: The overall numbers are still fantastic -- and he's still getting on base at a ridiculous rate -- but as weird as it is to type, Pederson is currently going through a borderline power drought. He's hit just two homers in the month of June, and he hasn't hit a double in nearly three weeks. Some of this is undoubtedly due to his being pitched around as much as any hitter in minor league baseball, but Pederson is still getting pitches to hit and simply hasn't connected the way he did in the previous months. It may seem like nitpicking, but he needs to show that plus power again if he's to stay on this list.

7. Matt Wisler, RHP, San Diego Padres (Last week: NR)
2014 stats: 1-0, 2.10 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6 BB, 35 K's in 30 innings (six starts) at Double-A San Antonio; 4-4, 6.04 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 17 BB, 34 K's in 44 2/3 innings pitched (nine starts) at Triple-A El Paso

Progress report: No, the overall numbers aren't impressive; but since May 26, Wisler has an ERA of 2.87 and has limited hitters to a .579 OPS in that time frame as well. We still haven't seen the plus command that he showed in Double-A, but the walk totals are dropping, and the fastball and change are still flashing as plus pitches. Eric Stultz has been among the worst starting pitchers in all of baseball, and there are rumors that Ian Kennedy could be trade bait for the struggling Padres, and if either one is moved/demoted; Wisler has a chance to be that pitcher's replacement. The new GM -- whoever it is that is tapped to take over for the ousted Josh Byrnes -- has some very interesting decisions to make.

8. Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Last week: glasses.gif
2014 stats: 1-7, 3.04 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 25 BB, 54 K's in 71 innings (12 starts) at Double-A Altoona; 0-0, 0.64 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 1 BB, 10 K's in 14 innings (two starts) at Triple-A Indianapolis

Progress report: Maybe there's something in the water in Indianapolis. Kingham had another quality start on Wednesday against Gwinnett, though this time he needed a little more help from the defense than last week (two strikeouts in seven innings compared to eight in his Triple-A debut). The Pirates are playing better, but three-fifths of their current rotation (Edinson Volquez, Brandon Cumpton, Francisco Liriano) currently have an ERA above 4.67; of that trio, only Liriano is missing bats. A few more starts like this for Kingham and Pittsburgh should give the right-hander a chance to see whether he can add a little more consistency to a team that should be aiming for the playoffs.

9. Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Last week: NR)
2014 stats: 7-3, 3.77 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 20 BB, 68 K's in 74 innings (14 starts) at Double-A Tulsa

Progress report: I've been hesitant to put Gray in this spot, which may seem a bit hypocritical since I've had fellow 2013 draft pick Kris Bryant on this list all year, but I couldn't "avoid" his inclusion anymore. He's missing bats at a solid -- if unspectacular -- level, and the command has seen significant improvement over the past month. The Rockies' rotation is a bit of a mess outside of Jordan Lyles (can't say I ever thought I'd be typing that sentence), and as long as Gray can keep the ball below the knees, his plus-plus fastball and slider will play well in any stadium, including Coors Field.

10. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs (Last week: 10)
2014 stats: .355/.458/.709, 22 HR, 57 RBIs, 8 SB at Double-A Tennessee; .188/.188/.750, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 0 SB at Triple-A Iowa

Progress report: Welcome to Iowa, Mr. Bryant. We've been expecting you. It wasn't a great first three games for the slugger in the PCL, as he struck out seven times in his first 12 at-bats, but we'll chalk that up to the fact that no hitter can keep doing what Bryant was doing over the past two months; he sure looked good on Sunday, however, hitting two home runs. If he puts up numbers in Iowa that even remotely look like the numbers he put up in Tennessee, he'll be a member of the Cubs' lineup before the season is over, and I really do think that's a possibility.

Called up: Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins

Dropped off: Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins; Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, Houston Astros

Also considered: Javier Baez, SS, Cubs; Trevor May, RHP, Twins; Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians

Bundy close to pre-surgery form.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Dylan Bundy -- the No. 31 prospect on my Top 100 in January -- is still not quite a full 12 months off Tommy John surgery (he had the operation on June 27, 2013), but made his second rehab start on Saturday night at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, Maryland, throwing five quick innings and showing he's close to pre-surgery form, but not all the way there yet.

Bundy faced 17 batters over five innings, striking out nine and walking just one while allowing two hits, both well-struck but going to the opposite field. He was pitching 90 to 94 mph all night, with some downhill plane and a little tailing life to it even at 93, although I noticed he rushed his arm on many of the fastballs at the higher end of the range. He also threw at least one true cutter at 91 mph, the first pitch of the third inning, and I think he cut a few others over the course of his outing, just not as prominently.

Roughly 80 percent of Bundy's 64 pitches (48 strikes) on the evening were fastballs, but he did mix in a few straight changeups at 86-87 and at least seven curveballs, three of which punched out hitters. The curveball was at 73-75 mph, nearly 12/6 with good depth, and he threw it for strikes aside from one he shanked at 76 right into the dirt. He threw just one off-speed pitch in the first inning, but increased the mix as the game went on because he seemed to need that extra effort to dial up the fastball, and in the process lost some command of the pitch.

Bundy is back pitching in games earlier than most pitchers who've had ligament transplant surgery, which is the result of a quick rehab with no real setbacks; this is also the most likely explanation for the slightly reduced velocity and command he showed on Friday. His delivery was pretty similar to how it was before the injury, perhaps a slightly more pronounced downward stab in the back but nothing significant. I don't think he's close to ready in terms of helping the major league team as a starter. But, I could see him in the Baltimore Orioles' pen in September or going to the Arizona Fall League to help him build up some more innings and stamina before shutting it down for the winter.

• The Brooklyn Cyclones (New York Mets affiliate) started one of their better prospects, right-hander Marcos Molina, who boasts above-average stuff with a below-average delivery. Molina's pitches hit 88-94 with 55 life (on the 20-80 scouting scale) on the pitch, mostly sinking it due to his low arm slot, but cutting a few pitches up to 92 mph. Of the 19 balls Aberdeen put in play, 12 were on the ground (two popups, five flyballs/lineouts), and nearly all were off the fastball. His changeup is hard at 84-86, but has some pronounced fade to it, while he tended to get on the side of the 78-79 mph slider but showed a few with tilt.

Molina's delivery, however, makes it very hard to project him as a starter; it reminds me most of Tyson Ross', a low-slot slinging arm action with nearly all of the force coming from his shoulder rather than his lower half. He pronates his arm late and pauses just before his front leg lands, so to generate all that arm speed (and it is fast) he has to use his upper half more than you'd like. It's not impossible for a pitcher with this kind of slot and delivery to be a starter -- Chris Sale and Justin Masterson do it, and Aaron Nola is similar too -- but most guys who do so use their hips and legs more than Molina does. I could see success as a starter in the low minors, but this is going to be a tough delivery to repeat while staying healthy in a rotation.

• Shortstop Amed Rosario didn't start for Brooklyn, coming in as a pinch hitter and sticking around for two at-bats. He grounded out to second and lined into a 4-3 double play with the bases loaded, both times clearly trying to take the right-handed pitcher the other way, making good contact the second time but hitting it right at the fielder. He had one tough play at short, coming across and in front of the bag for a tough 6-3 putout, and showed 55 running speed on the one groundout. I'll try to see him again later this summer.

• The only serious position player prospect on Aberdeen's roster was catcher Jonah Heim, who didn't have a great night, struggling behind the plate and in the box. Heim had trouble blocking balls in the first and was consistently over two seconds on throws, one of those coming because he couldn't get the ball out of his glove. He did have one hit, lining a changeup for a single to right field while hitting left-handed. He's not built like a catcher, tall and lean with a narrow waist, but looks like he'd be athletic enough to move around the outfield if the bat will play out there.

Padres' firing of Byrnes was overdue.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The San Diego Padres' decision to relieve Josh Byrnes of his duties as general manager is unsurprising, and was probably overdue, given the team's poor performance at the major league level and lack of production from young players, especially those acquired in trades or handed long-term contracts. The move, by itself, solves no problem, however. The Padres need to hire the right successor, a GM who has experience in scouting and player development, because there is no way a team with the Padres' low payroll can succeed without a productive farm system and coming out even or ahead in trades.

Byrnes struck out in the trade market more than once, and he has been stung by long-term deals -- some of them appearing to be smart at the time -- to players who subsequently got hurt or just weren't good afterward. The trades can be more galling to ownership or fans, because a player you used to have is now producing for another club -- often a rival. The deal that sent Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds, for example, netted the Padres four young players, but none of those four were projected to be stars as Latos was. It was quality for quantity, and Latos has produced more WAR on his own than the four players San Diego acquired for him, and two of them are no longer with the team. Yasmani Grandal appeared to be the gem coming back to the Padres, but a PED suspension and miserable performances since 2012 have made him a de-facto backup catcher, while Yonder Alonso's above-average but not-plus power was always a bad fit for Petco Park.

The other trade appeared as recently as last year to be tipping the Padres' way, although at the time it was originally struck it looked like a loss for the team: Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner. Cashner can pitch like an ace when healthy, but 2013 was the only season in his pro career when he topped 110 innings, and he has missed time again this year while seeing his strikeout rate dive (when he has been able to take the mound). Meanwhile, Rizzo is starting to look like the next Joey Votto, hitting .278/.400/.506, on pace to draw 100 walks with more than 30 homers. While Rizzo might also fit the category of a player whose power won't play as well in Petco, the Padres didn't get an adequate return for him at the time. While Byrnes has made other trades that worked out better for the team -– acquiring Seth Smith for Luke Gregerson, picking up Ian Kennedy because Kevin Towers decided to give the guy away -– those two deals were his biggest ones when they were made, and Rizzo and Latos are the two highest-profile players he's traded away.

On the contracts front, Byrnes has handed out several long-term deals that turned to vinegar shortly after they were signed. Cory Luebke made five starts after he signed a deal that guaranteed him $12 million, blew out his elbow, and hasn't pitched in more than 24 months. Jedd Gyorko signed a deal this spring that guarantees him $35 million, and he was the worst-hitting position player in the NL before he went on the DL earlier this month. (The worst qualifying position player in the NL now, by the offensive statistic wOBA, is Padres SS Everth Cabrera; third-worst is Alonso.) Cameron Maybin signed what appeared to be a club-friendly $25 million extension after his breakout 2011 season, but he regressed badly at the plate in 2012 and missed nearly all of 2013 due to injury. The Padres traded two spare parts for Carlos Quentin, a strong deal on its face, but gave the natural DH a four-year extension that negated the producer surplus they'd spotted when acquiring him. He has been adequate for the past two years, handing back about a half a win a year on defense, but has been below replacement-level this season. Even the one-year gamble on Josh Johnson didn't work out: It has been $8 million that returns nothing, although everyone had to know going in that he was an all-or-nothing investment.

The Padres' organization was my No. 1 system going into 2012, Byrnes' first year as GM, which reflected the Latos trade but was otherwise the product of the previous regime's work in the draft, trades and Latin America. Some of those players have reached the majors, including Gyorko, Robbie Erlin and Casey Kelly; others are still on their way, including the resurgent Joe Ross and top prospect Austin Hedges, while many have gotten hurt. Along with Luebke, Kelly, Rymer Liriano and Joe Wieland all blew out their elbows, while Erlin is currently out with elbow soreness. The Padres actually had strong drafts in 2012 and 2013, but none of those players has come close to the majors yet, with their first pick in '12, Max Fried, out the whole year thus far with a forearm strain, and Hunter Renfroe, their first pick from last year, racing to Double-A last week.

The combination of stalled development from some of those key young players, including Gyorko and Grandal, and the rash of injuries that decimated the depth their system had going into 2012 has killed the Padres over the past two seasons. They're never going to be active in the pricey end of the free-agent pool, so they must grow their own core talent, or trade for it. The first job for the new GM, therefore, will be to do something Byrnes should have done two years ago: Trade Chase Headley.

Beyond that, however, the job is going to entail getting back to baseball basics: Draft well and develop better. The Padres did the former just fine under VP Chad Macdonald and scouting director Billy Gasparino, but the development of the previous administration's prospects fell short. The new regime will also inherit a fairly full cupboard, so turning those players into productive assets while avoiding Byrnes' major league mistakes is the challenge facing his successor.
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Trading Russell is a non starter for Oakland.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

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Thread Starter 
The Understated Greatness of Tim Hudson.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
For all of the natural ebbs and flows of individual player performance from year to year, the game’s ruling class – the elite among the elite, the upper crust – is a fairly closed society that remains fairly static from year to year. Any given year might have its Yasiel Puig joining that group, or its Albert Pujols conceding his seat, but the core membership is fairly predictable. What might happen in any given season, however, is one of these elite players taking a temporary step up in class, reaching an even more rarified air than ever before. Let’s continue to take a deeper look at the 2014 performance of some of the game’s elite, and determine whether they in fact have taken things to the next level. Today, Tim Hudson.

Your first thought might be, Tim Hudson – elite? A brief perusal of his career numbers might be in order. Does 212-114, 3.41, career ERA+ of 124 grab you? His 2013 season (8-7, 3.97) might not look so hot on the surface, but his FIP was over a half-run lower, and his cumulative record in his three previous seasons with the Braves was 49-26. Wins and losses are obviously far from the only or preferred way to evaluate a starting pitcher, but Hudson sure has had a knack for winning – and not losing – throughout his career. 16 years in the big leagues, 11 times as an ERA qualifier, and he has reached double digits in losses exactly three times, and has a career high loss total of 12. He’s played on a lot of good teams, true, but he has played a large role in making those teams good.

Hudson was a 6th round draft pick out of Auburn in 1997, and was just as well known for his bat as his arm as an amateur. John Poloni, who was unfairly negatively singled out in the “Moneyball” book, believed in him as a pitcher and pushed hard for his selection. Depending on how things play out following Hudson’s career, Poloni just might be responsible for signing a Hall of Famer for a relative pittance.

Hudson knifed through the minor leagues, going 24-10, 3.22, with about a K per inning, and reached the major leagues almost two years to the day after being drafted, on June 8, 1999. Some pitchers require an adjustment period after reaching the big leagues for the first time, but not this guy. Hudson went 11-2 in 1999, and his career record stood at a remarkable 49-17 following the 2001 season. Hudson was quite the strikeout guy at this point in his career, whiffing 482 batters over 573 2/3 innings over that span. Going relatively unnoticed by all save for a few trailblazers in those early days of advanced analysis was Hudson’s underlying strength – his high grounder rate, generated by the sinker that drew Poloni’s attention.

That sinker has driven Hudson’s performance all of these years, even now as he approaches his 39th birthday. He is off to a fantastic start in his first season with the Giants, posting a sterling 7-3, 2.39, mark despite being obliterated by the White Sox in his last start. Has he found another gear at his advanced age, or found a new trick? Or are contextual factors like the ones that made it seem like he was having an “off” year last season doing tricks in the opposite direction in 2014? Let’s take a closer look at his 2013 and 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data to see what, if any, changes have taken place. First, the frequency information:

FREQ – 2013
Hudson % REL PCT
K 18.6% 93 40
BB 7.0% 91 39
POP 7.6% 101 56
FLY 19.9% 71 2
LD 19.7% 92 20
GB 52.8% 123 92

FREQ – 2014
Hudson % REL PCT
K 15.8% 78 3
BB 3.7% 46 1
POP 1.5% 19 1
FLY 18.8% 68 1
LD 21.4% 102 45
GB 58.3% 134 99
Always the extreme ground ball guy, Hudson has taken that part of his act to new heights this season. 80.5% of all hitters he’s faced have made contact, a career high, with his K rate descending to its lowest mark since 2010 and his BB rate dropping to a career low. His 2014 K rate is in the 3rd percentile, and his BB rate is in the 1st. That, my friends, is what we call pitching to contact.

The type of contact he tends to induce is not a surprise – it’s almost always of the ground ball variety. His 2014 popup and fly ball rates are both in the 1st percentile, and in both 2013 and 2014, his grounder rate has been in the 99th. His line drive rate has been below MLB average in both 2013 and 2014 (20 and 45 percentile ranks), and his 2014 liner percentile rank to date is actually his highest since 2008. Bottom line – Hudson allows lots of contact, but generally prevents the ball from being hit in the air or on a line as well as anyone in the game.

Now let’s take a look at the production by BIP type allowed by Hudson in 2013 and 2014, both before and after adjustment for context:

PROD – 2013
FLY 0.288 0.779 107 111
LD 0.587 0.773 80 96
GB 0.239 0.249 99 100
ALL BIP 0.302 0.448 83 88
ALL PA 0.244 0.295 0.362 85 90 3.97 3.29 3.47

PROD – 2014
FLY 0.235 0.686 79 122
LD 0.655 0.931 103 106
GB 0.177 0.222 61 76
ALL BIP 0.280 0.439 75 90
ALL PA 0.232 0.262 0.364 76 89 2.39 2.88 3.41
The actual production allowed by Hudson on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure is then adjusted for context, such as home park, team defense, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. In the three right-most columns, his actual ERA, his calculated component ERA based on actual production allowed, and his “tru” ERA, which is adjusted for context, are all presented. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.

Hudson has had the good fortune to play in large ballparks with good outfield defenses in both 2013 and 2014. Truth is, however, that on the rare occasions that he does allow the ball to be hit in the air, it tends to be hit with above average authority. While his actual production allowed on fly balls is down quite a bit from 2013 to 2014 (his REL PRD has dropped from 107 to 79), his subpar hard/soft fly rates have caused his ADJ PRD on fly balls to be 111 and 122 over that span. While he doesn’t allow many liners, they too have been hit harder than league average this season (106 ADJ PRD, up from 96 in 2013).

Then there’s all those ground balls…..not only does he induce a ton of them, but thus far in 2014, he’s yielding a lot of weak ones. He’s allowing hitters to bat just .177 AVG-.222 SLG on grounders for a REL PRD of 61, which is adjusted upward only slightly for context to 76. In 2013, he allowed grounders to be hit at virtually exactly league average authority, with an ADJ PRD of 100.

Put the whole package together, and his overall contact management ability has been nearly the same in both 2013 and 2014, with ADJ PRD figures – or adjusted contact scores – of 88 and 90, respectively. Add back the K’s and BB’s and those numbers are virtually unchanged, with ADJ PRD figures on all plate appearances of 90 in 2013 and 89 in 2014. His “tru” ERAs, adjusted for context, are 3.47 in 2013, and 3.41 in 2014. That’s right, he has exhibited virtually the same true talent level in 2013, when he had a 3.97 ERA, and in 2014, as he’s posted a 2.39 mark to date. No, Tim Hudson has not taken his game to a new, higher level in 2014. He’s simply become an even more extreme version of himself, becoming more of a pitch-to-contact guy than ever, and has concentrated an even higher percentage of that contact within the ground ball department than he had previously.

Let’s take a moment to talk about Hudson’s potential Hall of Fame candidacy. He’s not going to win 300 games, which has become a bar set way too high, and one that is becoming increasingly insurmountable in the age of the five-man rotation. Mike Mussina is 270-153, for heaven’s sake, and is far from a lock to make it to Cooperstown, for reasons that will never be adequately explained to me. When all is said and done, Hudson’s winning percentage will be one of the best – even today, he fits pretty squarely within the ****** Ford family of pitchers – Ford finished up with a 236-106 career mark and a 133 ERA+, and was an easy selection. Hudson is not quite Ford, but he’s not far off.

Hudson needs a “hook”, a selling point that will help him gain admission to the Hall. I would submit that his contact management ability is that hook. Hudson is one of the very best contact managers the game has ever seen. I will be presenting at the Saber Seminar in Boston on August 16-17, and my talk will focus on the best contact managers in the history of the game – or at least going back to 1938, when some semblance of batted ball data became available. No, granular data going back that far isn’t available, but records of basic batted ball types – popups, fly balls, liners and ground balls – are. In other words, you can come up with the “REL PRD” data in the above tables – as well as the reasons why pitchers are good or bad contact managers – but you can’t come up with the “ADJ PRD” data.

In 11 years as an ERA qualifier, Hudson has never had an above league average unadjusted contact score. Even more amazingly, his unadjusted contact score has been below 80 – over 20% better than league average – in eight of those 11 seasons. How does Hudson do it? It’s pretty simple. 93.5% of the pitches he has thrown in 2014 are some variation of his fastball, with his sinker leading the way at 44.9%, and his cutter (23.4%), splitter (13.8%) and four-seamer (11.1%) following behind.

Despite his low K rate, his 9.2% swing-and-miss rate is above average, and he has a double-digit whiff rate with three pitches, his splitter (17.1%), cutter (14.7%) and curve ball (13.6%). It is that sinker, however, that pays the bills. It is by far his most effective pitch, accumulating the lion’s share of the weak ground ball contact that he generates.

No, Hudson has not taken his game to a new level this season – he has simply maintained the very high standard he has set for himself as he approaches the age of 39, and he shows no signs of letting up. Though he has played the vast majority of his career with very good clubs, he has never been on the winning side in a playoff series. Let’s enjoy watching a virtuoso work for the Giants as the season continues, and perhaps watch him work late into October for the first time.

Prospect Watch: Short-Season Standouts.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In this installment of the Prospect Watch, I’m checking in on three players who impressed me last year and are off to big starts this year in the short-season New York-Penn League.

Rowan Wick, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (Profile)
Level: SS-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 43 PA, .361/.465/.972, 7 HR, 7 BB, 9 K
Wick has two plus tools and he’s laying waste to the NYPL early on.

Seven home runs in forty-three plate appearances is pretty special, regardless of the level of competition, and that’s exactly what Rowan Wick, a 2012 ninth-round pick, is doing this year.

While his power surge is certainly raising his prospect stock, this sort of output from Wick shouldn’t arrive totally out of the blue. Last year in the Advanced-Rookie Appalachian League, he tied for the circuit’s lead with ten big flies. I happened to witness a couple, and they sure weren’t cheap homers:

With a prototypical power hitter’s body at 6’3″ and a well-built 220 pounds, Wick easily generates plus pop without having to sell out for it, giving him the potential to be a 50-grade hitter with 65 power at maturity. Note the absence of a large loading mechanism in the videos above, giving Wick time to let the ball get deep in the hitting zone. The same trait also helps with his selectivity at the plate–he walked 12.4% of the time last year and is at 16.7% in the young 2014 season. While he struck out 29.5% of the time last year, he’s cut the K’s to a much more palatable 21.4% in 2014–a small sample, but a number that Wick’s swing should allow him to maintain reasonably well.

The other big attribute that the Canadian slugger brings to the table is a plus arm. Now, in my looks last year, I saw the arm from behind the plate–he may have had the best arm among Appy League backstops in 2013 (including Tampa Bay’s Armando Araiza, of whom I’m a staunch proponent). This year, though, the Cardinals have uprooted Wick from the catching position and shifted him to right field, where the arm should continue to be an asset. Wick’s reasonably athletic for his size and thus has a chance to make that position work in the long term, though he has committed six errors in 32 pro games in right for an unsightly .914 fielding percentage. I’m not sure he’d be entirely incapable of going back behind the plate at some point–he made big strides in cutting down his passed balls in 2013 (12 in 12 games in 2012, eight in 25 in 2013), and he has the aforementioned arm and athleticism–but he comes with the usual mobility issues of larger catchers and would never have been more than a fringy defender at the position. Of course, the move to right puts a lot more pressure on his bat, but it also puts him in a position where he’s not taking a beating on the side of the ball he doesn’t excel on.

Given how much I liked Wick last year, I was quite surprised when he didn’t receive a full-season assignment to open the 2014 season, and the early returns on his NYPL performance seem to indicate that he really does belong in the full-season Midwest League. He’s a talented batsman who could evolve into a good platoon contributor at the big league level, or perhaps even a starter. I wouldn’t be shocked if he replicates Chris Duncan‘s 2007 season in a Cardinals uniform (or another MLB one) someday.

Hunter Wood, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: SS-A Age: 20 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 15.2 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 13/4 K/BB, 0.57 ERA, 3.05 FIP
How did this guy fall to the 29th round?

If you’ll permit me a quick tangent…the Appalachian League is a weird league to evaluate. Few of its players enter the season with meaningful statistical track records, so without seeing a player in the league, all one really can go on to determine if he’s interesting or not is his draft status, youth, and (for foreign-born players) signing bonus. Invariably, the majority of the circuit is made up of players that were drafted low or signed relatively cheaply. That’s the case with almost any minor league, but what makes the short-season leagues different is that there aren’t significant statistical barometers that allow for easy shorthand categorization of the players whose prospect status doesn’t precede them.

Even if you call Appalachian League statistics meaningful in some fashion, they often bear little reflection on a prospect’s actual talent. Plenty of pitchers who boast little stuff can carve up Appy hitters if they can throw strikes and mix up their pitches. Last year, guys like Jared Dettmann, D.J. Slaton, Blake McKnight, Hein Robb, and Brady Dragmire posted sub-3.00 ERAs as Appy starters while throwing mostly upper-80s heat and collections of offspeed pitches that featured no plus offerings.

When you’re in my position trying to evaluate as many players as possible, you always want to see guys like that in case they’re legitimate, but you always have to keep those examples in the front of your brain–get your excitement up for guys like that and you’re often headed for a letdown. So when I went to see Rays prospect Hunter Wood throw last August, I kept expectations low. Sure, he entered the game with a 25/5 K/BB in 22 1/3 innings, but he had just been selected in the 29th round two months earlier–the mark of a player who likely didn’t have much stuff.

And then he came out and did this:

If Hunter Wood‘s pitching near you, go see him throw. That curveball’s worth the price of admission on its own. It’s a gorgeous offering at 74-77 mph, and I graded it as a plus pitch last season–when Wood was a week shy of his twentieth birthday. You probably don’t need me to tell you that consistently plus offspeed pitches are quite rare to find in teenage arms–Wood’s curve should be a consistently effective offering for him at every level.

It would be one thing if the curve was Wood’s only legitimate pitch, but you can see Wood throws consistently in the low 90s in the video above, including plenty of 93s. He has a bit of projection left and could slide in comfortably at 90-94 mph, making his fastball an average to solid-average offering. While he’s only 6’1″, he gets decent plane on the pitch due to solid lower half use and a fairly high release point. His delivery is fairly sound and should enable him to have at least average command.

While the Rays assigned Wood to Low-A Bowling Green to open the 2014 season and he pitched decently there in six starts (21/12 K/BB in 24 1/3 IP, 4.07 ERA), he was sent back to extended spring and then moved to the NYPL, where he’s allowed just one run in 15 2/3 innings. Still just 20, Wood needs to work extensively on his changeup if he’s to be a major league starting pitcher, but the fastball-curve combination is very real and legitimate and could make him a solid relief pitcher even if starting doesn’t work out. Don’t be fooled by the draft status–Wood is a very real prospect. The real mystery is how a pitcher with clearly solid stuff slipped so far last June.


Andy Beltre, RHP, Miami Marlins (Profile)
Level: SS-A Age: 20 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 10 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 13/2 K/BB, 3.60 ERA, 2.10 FIP

The early returns on this flamethrower are good as he works his way back from Tommy John.

I saw Andy Beltre pitch in a minor league baseball game on April 6, 2013 in Hickory, the second day of the Low-A South Atlantic League season. That might make my commentary on him seem quite outdated, but he’s actually only made three appearances since–he went under the knife later that month for Tommy John surgery and just got back on a pro mound this month when the NYPL began. Before the injury, Beltre–then just 19–showed off a plus fastball and solid-average slider:

His heater resided in the 94-96 range with a lot of armside life, touching 97 once, and the 83-84 mph breaker boasted sharp bite. Beltre also tossed in some diving 88-89 mph changeups that came in a touch too hard but had some potential. Again, seeing that sort of stuff in a pitcher who has yet to turn 20 is rare, and it would have assuredly put Beltre on the prospect map in short order had he remained healthy.

Of course, having that grade of stuff so young means that Beltre, if healthy, can afford the lost fourteen months a lot more than most players, and if the early returns on his 2014 performance are any indication, he’s back to something of his old form, striking out thirteen of the forty batters he’s faced so far across two starts. He’s also only walked two, so it’s not like he’s returned from the injury with the bouts of wildness that sometimes plague post-TJ hurlers.

Beltre worked as a reliever when I saw him last year, but he’s back to starting–a role he intermittently occupied from 2010-12–so far in 2014. Given the quality of his stuff, it’s probably smart to give him a chance to develop his changeup and work in a starting role for now, because the payoff could be significant if he can figure that out. Even if he can’t, as long as that fastball and slider are around, Beltre will always be easy to project as a late-game relief asset. His post-TJ progress merits close watching.

The Value of Alex Gordon Not Using His Arm.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There aren’t many plays quite like the challenging of an outfielder’s arm. If you think about it, hitters don’t really have a choice, when they’re in the box. Runners don’t really have a choice, when a ball’s hit to an infielder. But when the ball goes to an outfielder, runners can opt in to an arm test, wherein they attempt to beat the ball to a bag. It’s a challenge of arm against legs, and when the arm emerges victorious, it can make for some memorable moments. Just this past weekend, Marcell Ozuna went crazy in consecutive innings. Less recently but more memorably, the Angels made the mistake of challenging Yoenis Cespedes. Outfielders with the best arms tend to be outfielders who rack up the most kills.

Alex Gordon‘s always had a great arm. Alex Gordon’s always piled up the kills. Between 2011 – 2013, Gordon led all outfielders in UZR’s arm rating. He led all outfielders in DRS’ arm rating. He led all outfielders in assists, with 54. The next-best was Jeff Francoeur‘s 40. Gordon was drafted as a third baseman but he’s become an all-around star in left field. This season, Gordon has just five outfield assists, almost halfway through. The last three years, he’s finished with 20, 17, and 17. This season, Gordon’s also on pace for career-best arm ratings. Alex Gordon is showing the value of having a gun you seldom use.

Rewind to the very beginning of April. The White Sox were in Kansas City, and Alexei Ramirez pulled a grounder down the line into left field’s foul territory. Gordon scooped the ball up.

Said the White Sox broadcast:

Harrelson: There’s a rule that is just a conceded double, but not with Gordon out there.
Stone: There’s one guy in this outfield you don’t want to run on.

Ramirez hit a possible double, and aggressively rounded first to see if he could go for a double. He looked up, saw Alex Gordon, and slammed on the brakes. Ramirez still wound up with a hit, but he wound up with half the total bases he probably expected to get.

And this is where Gordon’s numbers are really outstanding. In the past, he’s racked up a lot of value by throwing runners out. So far, he’s racked up a lot of value by having his arm serve as a deterrent. Some assists, certainly, have still been there. And Gordon has yet to be charged with a throwing error. But the bulk of his arm value is coming from his not having to even use his arm.

Here’s some data you might not have ever looked at before. Sure, there are assists, but there are also holds, where a runner doesn’t advance an extra base. That’s the other way for an arm to be valuable, and Gordon so far has been extraordinary in this regard. Let’s go over a simple rundown, shall we? On Gordon’s 2014 performance in left field:

Single with a runner on first. So far, Gordon has held the runner 96% of the time. The league average is 80%.
Single with a runner on second. So far, Gordon has held the runner 77% of the time. The league average is 36%.
Double with a runner on first. So far, Gordon has held the runner 58% of the time. The league average is 54%.
Fly out, runner on third, less than two out. So far, Gordon has held the runner 43% of the time. The league average is 24%. (The sample here is also really small.) (I feel stupid using percentages.)
Fly out, runner on second, less than two out. So far, Gordon has held the runner 100% of the time. The league average is 89%.
This completely ignores assists. This is just about runners challenging or not challenging, and so far, Gordon has held the runner 82% of the time, overall. The league average is 63%, so if you’re content with simple math, you could equate that to about 16 saved bases. A different way of looking at this: against Gordon, there’s been a 14% advance rate. The league average is 35%. Every saved base has a run value, and some of the saved bases are home plate. A saved base in this regard is less impactful and less dramatic than an assist, in that it doesn’t create an out, but value is value and Gordon’s on track for a career high.

There are obvious issues with this data. Not every opportunity is created alike, and maybe Gordon has been defending against unusually slow runners. Maybe the balls in play he’s been fielding have made it extra unlikely for a runner to try to move up. With this sort of data, you want bigger sample sizes to try to get greater evenness of opportunities, and it’s worth noting that, just last season, Gordon had an overall 67% hold rate. His numbers held pretty steady before jumping up in 2014, so it would be strange if runners only just now suddenly lost the will to be aggressive. The short of this being, there are error bars, as there are whenever you break something down to the core components. It stands to reason runners don’t like challenging Gordon; it stands to reason we don’t know his current true-talent level, in terms of holding runners without advance.

But this is why Gordon’s numbers are where they are. His assists are present, but down. He has yet to make a throwing error. And runners have more or less stayed put, instead of putting Gordon’s arm to the test. Maybe down the stretch, they’ll run a little more often, as the sample size balances out. But, let’s go back to that April White Sox/Royals game. The batter after Alexei Ramirez doubled.

One way or another, Alex Gordon’s arm is going to accumulate its value. How it does that is up to the runners.

Carlos Gomez’s Symbolic Pursuit.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Way back at the beginning of May, the Diamondbacks were preparing to play the Brewers, and Kirk Gibson warned his pitchers about Carlos Gomez. He tipped them off about his aggressive tendencies, making clear that the pitchers would need to be careful. On Monday, May 5, Arizona got out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Mike Bolsinger started with a cutter, and Gomez swung, and the score was 1-1. One pitch, one swing, one dinger. It was exactly what Gibson warned against, and it’s just one of those things that Gomez does.

Said Gibson:

“We didn’t execute pitches from the first pitch of the game,” Gibson said. “I talked to you guys about Gomez. He’s a first-pitch fastball hitter and we threw one there and hit he it out of the park.”

Admitted Bolsinger:

“I knew he was a first-pitch guy, but I didn’t know he’d swing like that on the first pitch of the game,” he said. “I thought I could (sneak it by him), but I guess I didn’t.”

Gibson was right about Gomez being a first-pitch fastball hitter. Since 2012, when Gomez turned his career around, he’s hit .361 against first-pitch fastballs while slugging .669. That is a hell of a lot of damage.

But Gibson was wrong in that Gomez isn’t just a first-pitch fastball hitter. Against first-pitch breaking balls or offspeed stuff, he’s hit .434 while slugging .802. Carlos Gomez isn’t a first-pitch fastball hitter — Carlos Gomez is a first-pitch baseball hitter, and as he’s grown more and more comfortable with his new style, he’s taking things toward an extreme.

Baseball-Reference keeps track of first-pitch swing rates. A year ago, Gomez led regulars by swinging at 52% of first pitches. He had a lead on second place of six percentage points. Right now, Gomez leads regulars, having swung at 55% of first pitches. He has a lead on second place of almost 11 percentage points. Every statistical category in baseball has to have a leader. In almost every single instance, the leader is only the leader by a small margin. Gomez isn’t just swinging more at the first pitch than anyone — he could stay in the lead by taking more than 70 consecutive first pitches, were everything else to stay the same.

At 55%, Gomez is in rare territory, for an everyday player. In 2004, Vladimir Guerrero checked in at 54%. The same went for Randall Simon in 2002, and Vinny Castilla in 2001. To find a higher rate, you have to go back to Ozzie Guillen in 1991, when he swung at 56% of first pitches. And, in 1988, Mike Marshall swung at nearly 59% of first pitches. As raw percentages, Guillen and Marshall have Gomez beat. But, in 1988, the league-average first-pitch swing rate was about 33%. In 1991, it was about 30%. This year, it’s about 27%. As the years have passed, batters have gotten progressively more conservative on the first pitch, so if you adjust for that context, Gomez goes back on top. It’s a record that would hardly be a record, it’s not something anyone would talk about, but Carlos Gomez is on the way to posting the highest adjusted first-pitch swing rate in recent history, and that more or less captures what he’s become as a player.

Gomez, essentially, is aggressiveness, personified. He’s aggressive with his swing tendencies. He’s aggressive with his swing itself. He’s aggressive on the basepaths and he’s aggressive in center field. And while over-aggressiveness has caused otherwise talented players to fall short of sticking in the majors, this seems to be precisely Gomez’s wheelhouse. Offensively he’s like the best version of Josh Hamilton, but he can also run the bases and handle the middle of the outfield. There’s no questioning now that Gomez has blossomed, and it’s because he’s been allowed to embrace the player he was supposed to be, instead of the player coaches thought he should be.

The turnaround’s been thoroughly documented. Gomez grew tired of being told to put the ball on the ground and survive on his legs. So he basically asked for permission to try to drive the ball, and the Brewers were more than happy to assist. Here’s what he used to look like at release:

Here’s what he looks like now:

And here’s how some swings can end up:

It would be one thing if Gomez were just more aggressive across the board. What’s remarkable is how he’s remained mostly in control. Between 2008 – 2011, Gomez swung at 36% of pitches out of the zone. Since 2012, he’s swung at 37% of pitches out of the zone. Meanwhile, between 2008 – 2011, Gomez swung at 65% of pitches in the zone. Since 2012, he’s swung at 76% of pitches in the zone. With a more fitting swing unleashed, Gomez has felt more comfortable attacking pitches worth attacking. He’s still aggressive out of the zone, but he’s increased his good aggressiveness without increasing so much of the bad, and that’s been a key to his unlocking this level.

Relatedly, let’s do some math with Baseball Savant. Between 2008 – 2011, Gomez swung at 30% of first pitches out of the zone. Since 2012, he’s swung at 33% of first pitches out of the zone. Meanwhile, between 2008 – 2011, Gomez swung at 56% of first pitches in the zone. Since 2012, he’s swung at 73% of first pitches in the zone. This year he’s up to 79%. Gomez still has his vulnerabilities, and he only makes contact with first pitches 70% of the time, but that’s when he gets to swing most aggressively, when he still has two more strikes to give. This year, Gomez has seen fewer first pitches in the zone than ever, as pitchers have responded to his aggressiveness. Gomez, in turn, has responded by passing up fewer opportunities than ever. Which makes for a tricky mental calculation, for pitchers — throw in the zone to get ahead, and Gomez might punish it. Try to take advantage of his aggressiveness, and you might fall behind. In this way Carlos Gomez is going on the offensive.

There’s a variety of factors behind the annual increase in strikeout rates, but among them is that hitters have been more passive with first pitches while pitchers have been slightly more aggressive. So batters have fallen behind more often, and then it’s the batters who have to defend. Carlos Gomez is zigging where a lot of baseball has been zagging. Gomez isn’t the only aggressive player in baseball, but he’s the most aggressive player in his way, which is the way of a possible MVP. Far more than anybody else, Gomez is attacking the first pitch he sees. This is because Carlos Gomez is forever on the attack.

Riddle me this: How does Coors Field make Morneau better road hitter?.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Justin Morneau is off to a great start this year; of course, this is also his first year playing for the Rockies. Most people enjoy playing half their games in a park that greatly inflates offense like Coors Field. However, his production on the road has been equal to his production in Colorado, as shown by the park-adjusted metric wRC+. How did hitting in Coors Field make him a better hitter on the road?

Morneau has a nice .326/.357/.550 slash line at home. That's 21 percent better than league average. His .279/.319/.488 road average doesn't look that great, but when compared to the rest of the National League, it's just as valuable as his home slash line (120 wRC+). His home park still has something to do with that road work, though.

It might be more that Coors Field has freed him of the shackles that Target Field in Minnesota put on him. "I think I let the park play into my approach a little bit too much the last couple of years," Morneau admitted before a game with the Giants in mid-June. "I thought I had avoided it, but I wasn't as comfortable using the whole field ... most good hitters use the whole field."

He's right about good hitters, but we'll add a caveat -- using the whole field with power is important. In order to remove the slap hitters like Adeiny Hechavarria and Jarrod Dyson from the top of the list, we'll make league-average power a prerequisite for making this list of spray hitters. Let's sort the list by the percentage of outfield balls in play that go to the center or opposite fields. The league averages a .145 Isolated Slugging Percentage (slugging minus batting average), so let's cut the list off there. Let's go to 21 hitters -- you'll see why. Here are your powerful spray hitters who play regularly:

Name pull% center+oppo% ISO
Christian Yelich 24.6% 75.4% 0.159
Adam Lind 29.2% 70.8% 0.175
Corey Dickerson 30.1% 69.9% 0.281
Michael Morse 31.7% 68.3% 0.244
Scooter Gennett 32.3% 67.7% 0.155
Ryan Braun 32.6% 67.4% 0.216
Chris Owings 33.2% 66.8% 0.178
Michael Cuddyer 34.3% 65.7% 0.183
Todd Frazier 34.3% 65.7% 0.238
Jonathan Lucroy 35.1% 64.9% 0.195
Pedro Alvarez 35.1% 64.9% 0.165
Pablo Sandoval 35.2% 64.8% 0.162
Ryan Howard 36.0% 64.0% 0.197
Michael Choice 36.1% 63.9% 0.156
Brandon Crawford 36.2% 63.8% 0.195
Marcell Ozuna 36.3% 63.7% 0.188
Justin Upton 36.5% 63.5% 0.232
Torii Hunter 36.6% 63.4% 0.175
Anthony Rendon 36.7% 63.3% 0.191
Matt Adams 37.1% 62.9% 0.183
Justin Morneau 37.1% 62.9% 0.209

This is a bit of a new thing for Morneau. "I've been trying to use the whole field a little bit more," he said, now that he's "in a place where I feel comfortable hitting the balls into the gap and using all the parts of the field."

The Coors outfield inflates batting average on balls in play more than any other outfield -- it's huge -- and you can see that teammate Corey Dickerson is also modeling what a spray hitter can do in that ballpark.

Morneau is going to the opposite field about as much as ever these days:
Year Oppo%
2009 22.4%
2010 26.7%
2011 24.8%
2012 23.2%
2013 27.6%
2014 27.6%

Going the other way a bit more has helped Morneau across the board. He's shown power like this before, but this year, he has the best strikeout rate of his career. And that's come with the highest swing rate of his career, which is strange.

The resurgent slugger feels the new approach and new contact rates are related.

"When you look at the numbers, more pitches are away than they are in the zone," he said about making more contact by covering more of the plate with his opposite-field approach. As for the swinging? "It's not really a conscious effort to swing earlier, but maybe more trusting the location, trusting where I am hitting the ball, instead of looking for a ball to pull."

In other words, he's covering more of the plate.

He's swinging more at the pitch on the outer half this year. Here are the heat maps for his swing rates -- 2013 on top, 2014 below.

In a round-about way, swinging more (and making more contact) can come back to more power.

"If you show you're willing to go the other way, then teams have to start coming inside, just to get you off that outside ball," Morneau said. "Then you get some mistakes. When they're missing away, they're missing off the plate and there's not much you can do with it."

Morneau can't be blamed for the more pull-happy approach of his youth. "When you're a corner infielder, corner outfielder, you get paid for power," he said, "and if you're not seeing those results, you start changing things or do things to get them." So when he used to only swing at pitches on the inside half that he could really drive, and "wouldn't get held up in the outfield," he was thinking about power and his home park.

But now, his home park has helped him be a more complete hitter. He admitted that "there's no reason I couldn't have done this in Target Field," but is happy to make the change. As he said, "It's all part of the learning curve."

The Padres and Unrealistic Expectations.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last week, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Padres could be getting ready to clean house. On Sunday, the Padres fired General Manager Josh Byrnes.

Ron Fowler, executive chairman of the Padres, bristled a bit Sunday when he was asked if the dismissal of Josh Byrnes as general manager was a step back for the organization.

“This is a reset,” Fowler said. “This is not a step back. We’re doing this so that we could move forward. We expect continuous improvement from the organization. We’re getting it in other areas. We are not getting it on the baseball field.”

There’s nothing controversial about this statement. At 32-44, the Padres have the third-worst record in baseball, and they’ll have to play better than .500 baseball the rest of the way just to finish with the same 76-86 record that they’ve recorded the last two years. While there are some individual success stories, this team is not any better than the mediocrity that they’ve been for several years now. But this isn’t necessarily just about not seeing improvement.

There had been rumblings and rumors locally that the team was considering changes, either up top with Byrnes or possibly manager Bud Black. Mike Dee, team president and CEO of the Padres, said the Padres will keep Black at least through the end of the season.

“This was a decision that was not made in a day or two or a week or two. The last couple months, we’ve seen a team we had high expectations for. Those expectations have not been reached,” said Dee.

It’s understandable to say that the Padres have not been good this year, and even that they’ve played worse than expected. But I guess my question would be this: if the management team had “high expectations” for this roster, isn’t that their fault? Because I can’t find anyone else who thought this team was any good.

On March 31st, our Playoff Odds projections had the Padres finishing 80-82. Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections had them finishing 76-86. Clay Davenport’s forecast had the Padres finishing with 83 wins. The mathematical models all saw this as roughly a .500 team.

What about the human consensus, though? After all, the models aren’t perfect, and maybe individual observers saw something that the forecasts weren’t seeing?

Nearly 50 ESPN commentators: 1 had SD winning NL West, 2 had them making wild card.

Sports Illustrated’s five commentators: Zero predicted playoff appearances.

Yahoo’s five contributors: No higher than 81 wins or third place finish, no playoff appearances.

FanGraphs readers: 2% predicted NL West victory, 8% predicted any playoff appearance

The human consensus matches the numerical perspective. This team wasn’t supposed to be atrocious, but unless “high expectations” means that the executive team thought they would win and lose in equal proportion, it seems like this may be an issue where poor internal projections led to unrealistic expectations. This team is underperforming, but should we really be surprised that they aren’t particularly good?

Sure, you can point to guys like Jedd Gyorko, Chase Headley, and Will Venable, each of whom is performing far below what would have been expected based on their track record. But on the other hand, there’s Seth Smith with a .399 wOBA and Ian Kennedy posting the highest strikeout rate of his career. Things break both ways for most teams, and while more things have broken against the Padres than for them, it isn’t like everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Andrew Cashner has been mostly healthy. Tyson Ross has pitched very well. Huston Street has an ERA under 1.00. This isn’t the Rays, where the entire roster has basically collapsed together.

Of course, arguing that the Padres weren’t actually very good to begin with doesn’t let Josh Byrnes off the hook, since he put this mediocre roster together. Part of a General Manager’s job is to manage ownership expectations so that they aren’t blindsided when their team turns out to not be particularly good. Perhaps, in asking for the $22 million payroll increase that the Padres instituted this year, Brynes didn’t adequately convey to the executive team that the increase was more of a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses increase than a we-are-ready-to-win-now surge. It is a bit understandable that ownership would be unhappy with the team’s performance after increasing payroll by over 30%, and it isn’t like the money was invested in the team’s long-term future.

The Padres two notable free agent signings over the winter were Josh Johnson and Joaquin Benoit. Johnson’s deal was only for one year, so even if it worked out — it didn’t, of course — he was only ever going to be a rental. And Benoit is an aging reliever, who while effective, isn’t exactly a core piece of the team’s future. Those two will make $14 million between them this season, contributing +1 to +2 WAR and perhaps fetching a decent prospect at the deadline when they trade Benoit away. For a team with a $90 million payroll, that’s the kind of return on investment that they can’t afford.

In this instance, the Padres probably do need a new direction. They weren’t really rebuilding, spending money and assets on older players and short-term additions, but they never got all that close to creating a roster that was a serious contender either. While some have pointed to Byrnes’ superior record during his tenure to what Jeff Luhnow has done in Houston, the Astros have a clear plan in place, and it doesn’t involve maximizing short-term wins. The Padres are bad now and not building for the future, which is the kind of thing that rightfully gets GMs fired.

But this really shouldn’t have come as some huge surprise to the Padres ownership. This team just wasn’t very good. The Padres shouldn’t have been motivated to change GMs due to disappointment in how this season was going; they should have been motivated to change GMs because this isn’t really that much of a disappointment.

The Evolution of Yu Darvish.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
If you become one of the very best in the entire world at your profession: keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll likely continue to be among the very best in the entire world. Way to go!

But baseball is a funny thing. Sports in general, really. Difference with professional sports is, you’re constantly competing against those who are also the very best in the entire world. Once you reach elite status, the clock starts ticking for the league to begin figuring you out to some extent. The talent gap among the top 1% of the world’s greatest athletes isn’t very large and baseball players are really smart. Once you’re figured out, you better find a new way to continue being the best in the world, or you’re not going to last at the top for too long. Sometimes, it’s just too late. Sometimes, you have to make that adjustment before you’re figured out, so you can stay ahead of the curve. Or so you can keep yourself healthy. One, or both, of these things appear to be true with regards to Yu Darvish this season.

Darvish has been one of the very best pitchers in the entire world for probably about six years now, but we didn’t really know it until 2012 because he was doing it in a different hemisphere.

Once he came over from Japan to play for the Texas Rangers in 2012, there hasn’t been much question about Darvish’s ability or elite status. From 2012-2013, no player struck out more batters than Yu Darvish. Only eight pitchers were more valuable by WAR. Only five if you prefer RA9-WAR. Things were going really well for Yu Darvish. Almost perfect. He seemingly had no incentive to change. Yet he has, and it’s for the better.

Most starting pitchers in the MLB throw between three and five different pitches. Some, like Justin Masterson, Shelby Miller or Chris Archer, pretty much only throw two. There’s the rare pitcher that has maybe six unique offerings, a Jake Peavy. Then there’s Yu Darvish and his eight-pitch arsenal. Darvish throws a four-seam fastball, a slider, a sinker, a changeup, a curveball, a different really slow curveball, a cutter and a splitter. (deep breath)

And they’re all pretty darn good. This presents a lot of different possibilites of how he can choose to attack hitters, and that’s what we’re going to dive into here. Specifically concerning the fastball and the slider.

Since the start of last season, Darvish’s slider has been the most valuable pitch in the MLB by our PITCHf/x run values. Part of the reason why is because it goes like this:

But the other part is because he threw it all the time. In 2013, only Ervin Santana relied on the slider more than Yu Darvish. Darvish threw it 30% of the time and that jumped up to 43% when he got to two strikes. Against right-handed batters with two strikes, Darvish went to the slider 54% of the time. That’s a lot of sliders. Which, despite the effectiveness of the pitch, poses a problem for two reasons.

First: game theory. Darvish is the commissioner and sole member of the “MLB pitchers with an eight-pitch arsenal” club, yet he still went to his slider over half the time when he got two strikes on right-handed batters. Obviously, it was working out for him, because his slider is excellent. He struck out a third of all batters he faced last season, which was the best rate in the MLB, and it was largely thanks to his slider. But Darvish has a whole host of other plus pitches he can use to get strikeouts. And even the best slider in the world will eventually start to get hit by the best hitters in the world if they know it’s coming. The more you rely a certain pitch, the more opposing batters start to wait on it. The more opposing batters start to wait on it, the less effective it becomes.

Second: health. As our own Jeff Zimmerman points out on this very site, pitchers who throw a high number of sliders (or curveballs) run a higher risk of injury due to the stress that throwing a breaking ball puts on one’s arm. Here’s an article which I’m now realizing is written by our very own Eno Sarris on a totally different site that breaks down specifically Darvish’s potential for injury. With how frequently he’s thrown his slider, there has been a cause for concern, especially given the Rangers injury-riddled season and it being the year of the Tommy John.

Numbers time.

So, last year Darvish threw his slider 30% of the time. This year, that’s down to just 13%. With two strikes, the usage has dropped from 43 to 26 percent. Against righties with two strikes, he’s throwing it just a third of the time after throwing it over half the time last year. In four June starts, he’s throwing just one slider for every 10 pitches, the lowest frequency of his career.

In graphical form:

The result? His slider’s whiff rate is up to 24% after sitting at 18% last year. The most valuable pitch in baseball is even more lethal because Darvish is preventing hitters from sitting on it by throwing it less. With two strikes, he gets a swing-and-miss 35% of the time, compared to 26% last year.

So what’s Darvish going to instead?

A little more sinker and a little more curve, but mostly the four-seam fastball. Darvish is throwing his fastball 43% of the time after using it less than a third of the time his first two seasons, with a notable increase of usage on the first pitch of at-bats, where he’s now throwing it a little over half the time. After two seasons of getting first-pitch strikes at below league average rates, Darvish is now above league average at getting ahead in the count, which he’s doing 61% of the time.

If there’s one flaw to be found in Darvish’s game, it’s been his walk rate. His first season in the bigs, he walked 11% of the batters he faced. You never want that number to be two digits. Very few pitchers can sustain success with a two-digit walk rate. Last year, it snuck just under the dreaded two-digit figure at 9.5%. This year, it’s down to 8.6%. Darvish’s slider breaks horizontally more than any pitch in baseball. Fastballs go straight. It’s no surprise that Darvish is posting a career-best walk rate by getting ahead in the count and throwing fewer of the bendiest pitch in baseball and more of the straight ones. It’s not like he’s throwing some slouch fastball either. It sits 93 mph and can touch 97. And it’s not like Darvish is losing any of his effectiveness by throwing less of the slider. His ERA and FIP are at career best marks and his strikeout rate is still the best in the league.

Yu Darvish was already one of the very best pitchers on the planet yet he still chose to adjust his approach before hitters could adjust to him. His slider has been arguably the best pitch in baseball over the last two seasons. This year, he has more than halved it’s usage. As a result, it’s become an even deadlier pitch and he could be saving his arm, and his future, in the process.

The Most Improved Pitchers Thus Far by Projected WAR.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
What follows represents an attempt by the author to utilize the projections available at the site to identify the five starting pitchers whose per-inning WAR projections have most improved since the beginning of the season.

For every pitcher, what I’ve done is first to calculate his preseason (PRE) WAR projection prorated to 150 innings, averaging together Steamer and ZiPS forecasts where both are available. What I’ve done next is to calculate the prorated WAR for every pitcher’s rest-of-season (ROS) WAR projection (again, using both Steamer and ZiPS when available). I’ve then found the difference in prorated WAR between the preseason and rest-of-season projection.

When I attempted a similar exercise two months ago, I used updated end-of-season projections instead of prorated rest-of-season ones. The advantage of the latter (and why I used it on last month’s edition of this post, as well) is that it provides the closest available thing to an estimate of any given player’s current true-talent level — which, reason dictates, is what one requires to best identify those players who have most improved.

Only those pitchers have been considered who (a) are currently on a major-league roster and (b) have recorded at least 20 innings at the major-league level and (c) are expected to work predominantly as a starter for the duration of the season. Note that Projection denotes a composite Steamer and ZiPS projection. PRE denotes the player’s preseason projection; ROS, the rest-of-season projection. Inning estimates for both PRE and ROS projections are taken from relevant pitcher’s depth-chart innings projection. Data is current as of Tuesday.

5. Tom Koehler, RHP, Miami (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 154 IP, 6.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 4.56 FIP, -0.1 WAR
Projection (ROS): 81 IP, 6.7 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 4.53 FIP, 0.1 WAR

Koehler’s per-inning projections haven’t improved so much that one would immediately assume he ranked among the league’s best pitchers by that measure. This is also the case with certain of the other players below. In such situations, said pitcher’s inclusion on the list is a result not merely of the raw improvements but (and probably moreso) the role in which that pitcher is expected to produce the relevant numbers. The preseason projections here at the site assumed Koehler would make about a third of his appearances in 2014 in relief. The current projections assume he’ll make all of his remaining appearances this season as a starter. In most cases, a pitcher deployed in a relief role will record superficially better per-inning numbers than those he would in a starting capacity — because he’s compared to other relievers for the purposes of calculating WAR, however, those superficially superior numbers aren’t actually superior for our purposes. In Koehler’s case, the per-inning projections haven’t changed much. That he’s expected to produce them in a starting capacity, however, is encouraging.

4. Jesse Chavez, RHP, Oakland (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 131 IP, 7.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 4.14 FIP, 0.3 WAR
Projection (ROS): 87 IP, 7.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 3.91 FIP, 0.6 WAR

Chavez and Dallas Keuchel (below) are the two pitchers present here to have also appeared in the iteration of this same exercise that appeared last month. At that point, his combined Steamer and ZiPS projection called for hom to produce strikeout and walk rates of 7.7 and 2.8 per nine innings, respectively, plus a 1.0 HR/9 — good, that, for a 3.93 FIP. What he’s actually produced in the meantime is the following (over six starts and 36.1 innings): 6.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, 3.42 FIP. So: fewer strikeouts, fewer walks, half the home runs, and a lower FIP. Competent enough, however, to allow him to remain one of the league’s most improved pitchers.

3. Chase Whitley, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 1 IP, 6.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 4.78 FIP, 0.0 WAR
Projection (ROS): 52 IP, 6.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 4.71 FIP, 0.0 WAR

Like Koehler above, Whitley’s anticipated role has changed since the beginning of the season. Unlike Koehler, however — who was projected to record 25 starts — Whitley wasn’t so obviously expected to log considerable (or any) innings at the major-league level. He has done, though, to good effect — his Monday start at Toronto notwithstanding. Projected originally by Steamer to record a walk rate of 3.7 per nine, the 25-year-old right-hander has more than halved that mark (1.5 BB/9) over eight starts and 42.0 innings. That performance has dropped his projected walk rate by about 0.4 per nine — a mark made more impressive, again, by the change in role.

2. Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 68 IP, 6.0 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 4.23 FIP, 0.4 WAR
Projection (ROS): 91 IP, 6.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.8 HR/9, 3.87 FIP, 1.0 WAR

As with Jesse Chavez above, Keuchel appears once again on this list of most improved pitchers. As with Chavez, there’s likely some pleasure and/or insight to be gained from inspecting his rest-of-season projection from a month ago and then the actual, real numbers that he’s produced in the six starts and 42.0 innings since then.

Here’s a table which includes that kind of data. (Note: Proj denotes his rest-of-season projection as of May 20th, while Real represents his actual production.)
Type K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP
Proj 6.5 2.8 0.9 3.93
Real 6.0 3.0 0.2 3.20
Keuchel has recorded slightly fewer strikeouts and slightly more walks than expected — which, that’s not a fantastic development. What else he’s done, however, is also to concede just a single home run — on June 11th against Aaron Hill — over those same 42 innings. Probably as a result of that, his expected home-run rate has dropped slightly since this same exercise last month.

1. Chase Anderson, RHP, Arizona (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 1 IP, 6.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 4.60 FIP, 0.0 WAR
Projection (ROS): 88 IP, 6.9 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 4.48 FIP, 0.2 WAR

The 26-year-old Anderson would have appeared on this list last month were it not for having recorded fewer than 20 innings (i.e. the nearly arbitrary threshold imposed by the author) at that point. Now he’s eligible, however, and receives the temporary distinction of baseball’s most improved pitcher. As with Chase Whitley above, it wasn’t entirely obvious that Anderson would record a major-league inning this year, let alone a number of them. What he’s done, though, is to produced the second-highest WAR among Arizona pitchers over the last month. As is the case with some of the pitchers above, the effect of Anderson’s improvement is obscured by his raw per-inning stats — owing, that is, to how the preseason projections represent innings thrown as a reliever, while the current rest-of-season ones apply to a starting role.

Three additional notes:

Sixth among pitchers by the measure used here is Washington right-hander Tanner Roark (+1.1 WAR per 150 IP). Calculating any of the pitchers after him would require a sort of due diligence, however, which the author is unwilling to perform.
Roark’s teammate Blake Treinen would actually appear atop this list had he not been demoted two week ago to Triple-A. Treinen has recorded a 59.8% ground-ball rate over 30 innings for the Nationals and conceded precisely zero home runs at the minor- or major-league level this season.
Despite having allowed all those different runs, Randy Wolf fares well by this measure, too. He was recently waivers by Miami and, even more recently, signed by Baltimore.
post #23305 of 73586
The problem is we need impact players at 2nd and at SP, but we don't have the prospects to go get them. Almost anything is an upgrade at 2nd but I don't want another Callaspo because come playoff time, it won't make a difference. Also, I don't think we need another 4 starter, if we look to find a starter IMO it has to be a #3 at worst.

I don't know how Billy can pull any of that off, but I really hope he can because this team is too damn close to not go all in.
post #23306 of 73586
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

You going on the 4th or the weekend?
5th. You headed to Citi also?

Edit: Joey Gallo is another future star. As much as I love Kris Bryant, had to take a break from the love-fest.
Edited by ChampCruThik - 6/24/14 at 4:31pm
post #23307 of 73586
Ian Kinsler waving to the Rangers dugout after going yahtzee pimp.gif
post #23308 of 73586
Wasn't his beef with the front office? Or was it with some of the players also?

Beltre got his 2500 hit.
post #23309 of 73586
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Ian Kinsler waving to the Rangers dugout after going yahtzee pimp.gif

lmaooo dude hates them now

post #23310 of 73586
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Ian Kinsler waving to the Rangers dugout after going yahtzee pimp.gif
Originally Posted by bbllplaya23 View Post

Wasn't his beef with the front office? Or was it with some of the players also?

Beltre got his 2500 hit.
Kinsler hates Jon Daniels more than I love him. Pause.
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